Theme, characters, situations, and style stamp THE KITCHEN GOD’S Wife as a successor to Amy Tan’s best-selling first novel, THE JOY LUCK CLUB. That book linked short stories of four daughters of four mothers to develop their relationships set in California and China. THE KITCHEN GOD’S WIFE zooms in on one such mother-daughter pair.
The novel opens with the lack of communication between Weili Jiang ("Winnie"), an immigrant-generation Chinese mother, and her thoroughly American daughter, Pearl. Pearl cannot tell her mother about her multiple sclerosis, while Weili keeps secret her past in China, especially her doubts about Pearl’s paternity.
When Weili’s silence cracks, she fills the novel with revelations of astounding suffering relieved only by her salty narrative dialect. At age six, Weili was abandoned by her mother, a Shanghai merchant’s concubine, and reared by unloving aunts. They married her to Wen Fu, who abused her and was unfaithful to her for more than a decade. These miseries occurred during a period of great upheaval in China, marked by civil war, the Japanese invasion leading into World War II, and the Communist takeover. Ultimately, Weili met and fell in love with compassionate Jimmy Louie, an American-born Chinese interpreter attached to the U.S. forces in China. She divorced Wen Fu, married Jimmy, and settled in Fresno, California, where Jimmy became a pastor.
Tan’s incident-filled novel will especially appeal to readers interested in feminism and ethnicity. Weili is a Chinese-American Griselda finally driven to revolt. Wen Fu personifies all heinous male traits; almost as vile as Dostoyevsky’s father Karamazov, he is more hateful than Alice Walker’s Albert because unredeemable. THE KITCHEN GOD’S WIFE serves up good reading; it entertains with a labyrinthine plot and elevates with unambiguous moral indignation against villains and heartfelt admiration for heroines.
Burkhardt, V. R. Chinese Creeds and Customs. 3 vols. Hong Kong: South China Morning Post, 1953-1958. Illustration of the Kitchen God and description of the male ritual connected with him (no females may participate) are included in “The Twelfth Month.” The account describes both the celebration of the Chinese New Year and...
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