August 19, 2015

Wicked Review: The Kitchen God's Wife by Amy Tan

Published: September 21, 2006
Publisher: Penguin Books
Acquired: Borrowed Paperback

Winnie and Helen have kept each other's worst secrets for more than fifty years. Now, because she believes she is dying, Helen wants to expose everything. And Winnie angrily determines that she must be the one to tell her daughter, Pearl, about the past—including the terrible truth even Helen does not know. And so begins Winnie's story of her life on a small island outside Shanghai in the 1920s, and other places in China during World War II, and traces the happy and desperate events that led to Winnie's coming to America in 1949. 

This book is worth the overdue fee I paid for at the school library. I have never read a book that is both funny, intriguing, frustrating and painful.

The first three chapters started out in Pearl's point of view, Winnie's daughter. Pearl and her family was invited to the funeral of her Great Auntie Du and the wedding of his cousin Baobao. She and her mother, Winnie, has never had a really good relationship. They both differ in opinions mainly because Pearl is an ABC (American born Chinese) unlike her mother who is bound by the traditions and customs of China.

She has a secret. Pearl has multiple sclerosis, an incurable disease. She has only told a handful of people and now she's scared that if she tells her mom, she'll be devastated and angry at her. Little did Pearl know that Winnie has a secret of her own.

After those three chapters, I was taken back to the 1920s China. This is where Winnie's story starts. It's a bit dragging if you're not a big fan history. Winnie was born into a rich family. Her father was a rich businessman in Shanghai and her mother was educated. But then her mother disappeared and she was shipped to the island where she lived with her other relatives.

Growing up, Winnie grew wary of people. She didn't want to get hurt. She was like a shadow of her beautiful cousin, Peanut. Peanut and Winnie met Wen Fu, a charming young man in their small town. Peanut wanted Wen Fu's heart but ultimately Wen Fu and Winnie got married.

Their life as a couple was turbulent as the World War II started and Wen Fu became a soldier. They transferred from one base to another and that's when Winnie met her rather loony but really fun best friend Helen.

Helen was such a wackjob. And a good kind of wackjob. She's so crazy with her beliefs and her stories that it drove Winnie and everyone around them nuts. I think Helen was Winnie's rock. When Winnie's relationship turned turbulent with Wen Fu and she suffered a lot, Helen was there to pick her up. Winnie suffered a lot. She suffered several miscarriages. I lost count of how many times Winnie got pregnant and all of her children died. It was really painful.

Winnie then met Jimmy Louie, an American born Chinese. He was charming, smart, and loving; everything that isn't Wen Fu. Winnie fell in love with him but then divorcing Wen Fu proved to be difficult. I just really wanted to reach out and punch Wen Fu in the face but obviously I can't do that.

In the end, Winnie got her happily ever after. There was one setback though. She was pregnant with Wen Fu's child when she left China. That later on became Pearl.

The way Winnie's whole story was written was beautiful. It was as if I was Pearl and Winnie was just right there telling me her story, having a mother and daughter bond. Pearl didn't mind that she was Wen Fu's daughter. She was loved by her father and her mother and that's what's important for her. Winnie on the other hand, as soon as she found out that Pearl was sick, she did what mothers do best: she took care of Pearl.

This is probably my longest review ever but hey, there's a first for everyone. I truly, truly loved this story. It will open your eyes into why mothers are mothers.

Amy Tan  is an American writer whose works explore mother-daughter relationships and what it means to grow up as a first generation Asian American. In 1993, Tan's adaptation of her most popular fiction work, The Joy Luck Club, became a commercially successful film.

She has written several other books, including The Kitchen God's Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, and The Bonesetter's Daughter, and a collection of non-fiction essays entitled The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings. Her most recent book, Saving Fish From Drowning, explores the tribulations experienced by a group of people who disappear while on an art expedition into the jungles of Burma. In addition, Tan has written two children's books: The Moon Lady (1992) and Sagwa, The Chinese Siamese Cat (1994), which was turned into an animated series airing on PBS. She has also appeared on PBS in a short spot on encouraging children to write.

Currently, she is the literary editor for West, Los Angeles Times' Sunday magazine.

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