The Kitchen God’s Wife was Tan’s second novel. Her first, The Joy Luck Club (1989), brought her success and critical acclaim; Tan, however, did not attempt to re-create her earlier triumph by rewriting her first book. Her second novel departs substantially from the first in structure, in the weight given to the different claims of China and the United States, and in approach.
The Joy Luck Club is told by eight narrators—four mothers and four daughters, all friends—whose stories jump around in time and space, leaving the reader to sort out their chronologies and relationships. In contrast, The Kitchen God’s Wife has the relatively simpler structure of a tale within a tale. Further, the first novel gives equal attention to the lives of the American daughters and Chinese mothers, while the second work concentrates on Weili in China.
The most important departure in the second book is that Tan has exchanged her earlier Magical Realism for a realistic tone. Magical Realism, first associated with Latin American writers, is a style that remains realistic but constantly skims near the edge of fantasy. It dwells on plausible but unusual events involving pageantry, humor, and hints of folklore. In the United States, Magical Realism has been associated with African American women writers such as Toni Morrison. More to the point, however, it was the chosen style of Tan’s most prominent Chinese American...
(The entire section is 482 words.)