THE KITCHEN GOD’S WIFE, Amy Tan’s second novel, is another story that deals with family history and relationships between mothers and daughters. Unlike her first novel, THE JOY LUCK CLUB, THE KITCHEN GOD’S WIFE takes place mostly in the past.
Pearl and her mother Winnie have never had a very good relationship. Winnie criticizes Pearl often, and makes it unpleasant for Pearl whenever they come to visit. The book opens with Pearl, her non-Asian husband Phil, and their two young children making the drive to San Francisco to attend a family wedding.
Everyone in the family is there at the wedding, including close family friends and relatives that have been a part of Winnie’s life since her days back in China in the early `20’s and `30’s. An argument breaks out between Pearl and Winnie at the wedding, but before Pearl and her family return home, she and her mother talk. The story that Pearl hears from her mother is a story she has never heard before. It is a secret that Winnie has kept from her daughter for decades, for fear of hurting Pearl. Pearl herself has a secret, but it becomes secondary as Winnie’s story unfolds.
Winnie’s modern day world was a lifetime away from her early beginnings in China. She was born to a woman that was one of many wives belonging to a man Winnie knew as her father. He was a stranger to her, never giving her the time of day. Winnie’s mother was beautiful and educated, and together they lived the life of the pampered rich because of her mother’s station in life. Winnie’s life turns for the worse when her mother disappears for reasons unknown to the young girl. Winnie finds herself losing the protective life she had with her mother, the home she grew up in, and placed in the home of a distant relative, to be treated like a second class citizen. Her life is never the same again.
... the bits and pieces she uncovered and learned from family stories. Thus, Camila was unable to see the real ... All I have to do is put my life next to my mother's life, and I see the difference" (338 ... bond that can only be shared by mother and daughter. Life does not always follow the gentle streams ... her unyielding self-comparison to her mother led to the stilted adult life that she lived. In reflection, ...
Because of her new station in life, Winnie is destined to never marry, but through a fluke of fate, she ends up marrying a man that should have been destined for her cousin Peanut. However, after they are married, Winnie finds out that this husband is not the romantic wonderful man he appeared to be during the beginning of their courtship. From this point in her life, she knows only unhappiness and suffering.
Winnie has to endure much during this marriage, including abuse, countless miscarriages and loss of children to sickness and poverty, and with the outbreak of war in China, she does not know what her future will be like. What finally brings her to America and to the husband that Pearl knows as her father, is for the reader to find out.
I highly recommend THE KITCHEN GOD’S WIFE. Although this book is not as fast a read as THE JOY LUCK CLUB, I found that the history of Winnie was fascinating, taking me to a country that I know so little about. The story of Pearl becomes second to Winnie’s, but Winnie’s story bridges the two stories together, as the reader finds by the end of the book.