Posts Tagged ‘Pearl’

KitchenGodsWife-AmyTan2Had you asked me if I were interested in reading the story of a Chinese woman growing up in China in the late 20’s through the end of World War II, now living in California, and her relationships with family, I probably would have said `no.’ Had you told me the author was Amy Tan, who wrote The Joy Luck Club, I would have immediately changed my answer.

I am so impressed with how Ms. Tan immediately pulls you into her story; it seems so simply written. I don’t know how she does it, but I am engrossed from the first page. Pearl, the American born daughter of Winnie Louie, who grew up in China, begins the tale in the first person. She is observing her mother’s and aunties’ behaviors, their reliance on custom and tradition, and its seeming irrelevance to current day life. She doesn’t really understand her mother and is critical of her negativity and superstitions. They’ve had a rift between them since the death of Jimmy, Pearl’s father, when she was fourteen.

What becomes apparent in the first few chapters is that there are many secrets being kept by both Winnie and Pearl. But even deeper secrets are kept by Winnie and longtime friend, Helen … ¬†secrets that are bound by fear, pain, dreadful memories, and the need to follow traditional Chinese customs. Believing she may be dying, Helen threatens to reveal the secrets kept for over 50 years and free herself of the burden. For Winnie, this cannot happen, and so, with current day family relationships established, the story switches to Winnie becoming the narrator and looking back at the past. She will be the one to at long last reveal the secrets, not Helen.

She begins her story when a child of six in China, when her beloved mother, and fifth wife to her father, disappears, and how Winnie’s upbringing falls to Old Aunt and New Aunt and their deeply traditional views. As in The Joy Luck Club, the story is not only about the characters, but about a culture and a country of which I suspect most of us know little. As Winnie tells her story, we learn about the critical qualities of politeness, respect and saving face, the role luck – or belief in it – plays ¬†in people’s lives, and the inability to escape a traditional marriage, no matter how abusive.

The unfolding of Winnie’s life, her dangerous marriage, the loss of her children, the toll taken by war, all are answering the questions that her daughter has about her mother and why she is the way she is. This would be a deeply moving story of one woman’s life and her survival against enormous odds in any culture, but in The Kitchen God’s Wife, we also learn about China and a span of time and series of events that changed the country and its residents forever.

Ms. Tan brings it all together in the final chapters, a satisfying conclusion, and one which had me go back and read Pearl’s chapters a second time. Highly recommended.


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