Monday, June 8, 2009

The Kitchen God's Wife by Amy Tan


One of the many books I've read recently is The Kitchen God's Wife by Amy Tan. Here is part of a synopsis found on Amazon:
The Kitchen God's Wife is a triumph, a solid indication of a mature talent for magically involving storytelling, beguiling use of language and deeply textured and nuanced character development. And while this second novel is again a story that a Chinese mother tells her daughter, it surpasses its predecessor as a fully integrated and developed narrative, immensely readable, perceptive, humorous, poignant and wise. Pearl Louie Brandt deplores her mother Winnie's captious criticism and cranky bossiness, her myriad superstitious rituals to ward off bad luck, and her fearful, negative outlook, which has created an emotional abyss between them. Dreading her mother's reaction, Pearl has kept secret the fact that she is suffering from MS. But as she learns during the course of the narrative, Winnie herself has concealed some astonishing facts about her early life in China, abetted by her friend and fellow emigree Helen Kwong. The story Winnie unfolds to Pearl is a series of secrets, each in turn giving way to yet another surprising revelation. Winnie's understated account--during which she goes from a young woman "full of innocence and hope and dreams" through marriage to a sadistic bully, the loss of three babies, and the horror and privations of the Japanese war on China--is compelling and heartrending. As Winnie gains insights into the motivations for other peoples' actions, she herself grows strong enough to conceal her past while building a new life in America, never admitting her deadly hidden fears. Integrated into this mesmerizing story is a view of prewar and wartime China--both the living conditions and the mind-set. Tan draws a vivid picture of the male-dominated culture, the chasm between different classes of society, and the profusion of rules for maintaining respect and dignity. But the novel's immediacy resides in its depiction of human nature, exposing foibles and frailties, dreams and hopes, universal to us all.

The story starts out from Pearl's perspective. Pearl makes it clear she has never had a very good relationship with her mother. She has found out that there is a reunion coming up because of a cousin who is getting married. Pearl then feels she has no choice but to go and is preparing for it the best she can. We then get her perspective on her mother and the difficulties of the relationship that lead her to fear telling her mother she has Multiple Sclerosis. However, this section ends with Pearl being told by Winnie, her aunt, that she has to tell her mother about MS before the New Year or Winnie will tell her mother herself.

The story then switches to the mothers perspective and her story that she feels she if forced to share her story with Pearl by Winnie. Much like Pearl was told, her mother was told by Winnie that she had to tell Pearl about her past in China or she would tell her herself. At this point we get the full story of Pearls mothers past in China during WWII and how she came to America.

During the part of Pearls mother sharing her story, the story is sort of written to the reader, but it is obvious she is talking to Pearl. The backdrop of how she is telling Pearl is revealed now and again and it becomes clear that Pearl is very entranced in the story. However, the way it is written also brings the past to life. Pearls mother reveals some big secrets that really share a lot about her personality. It's obvious Pearl didn't know any of it either.

Once her mother is done sharing her story, we get a brief part from Pearl, and then I got confused towards the end because it suddenly switched to the mother without any clear sign of that. Previously, there had been a clear sign that it had switched to her mother. In my opinion, it almost concluded too fast after her mother shared such a heavy story of her past. I would have liked to hear more from Pearl as she comes to realize her father may not have been her father after all and how her view on her mother changed as it apparently had. Especially since we get a clear idea of how her mom dealt with her daughter sharing she had MS with her. We do get a sense of what Pearl was thinking of her moms way of handling the news of MS, but again, that is another area I would have liked to hear more about from Pearl.

Overall, I found this book to be very drawing. It does start out a little slow, but once it gets going it kept my attention. The story of her mother was especially very drawing as it was apparent she had a very hard life that she had overcome. The book also leaves one wondering if Winnie was smarter than the mother and Pearl thought. We get a clear picture on how she is through out the mothers story of her life.

Despite the rushed ending, I would have to say that overall I would give this book 8 out of 10 stars. I enjoyed it quite a bit and could see why my friend recommended it.

1 comments:

Christina Diaz Gonzalez on June 27, 2009 at 7:25 AM said...

Thanks for such an in depth review of a book I hadn't heard about.

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