Picks and Pans Review: The Kitchen God's Wife
by Amy Tan
In her second novel, Tan returns to territory familiar to readers of her first: The Joy Luck Club. Like that book, this one explores the relationship between an assimilated Chinese-American daughter and her less Americanized Chinese-born mother. Yet despite its opening passages, this sure-handed, funny, wise work is more the mother's story than the daughter's.
Winnie Louie has seemed a proper wife—now widow—of San Francisco reverend Jimmie Louie. Mother of two grown children, Winnie rules her family with love, superstition and demand. But a relative's death brings the extended family together and lets Winnie recall secrets she has kept hidden since her youth in China, secrets that inevitably bind her closer to headstrong daughter Pearl. The bulk of this book is Winnie's rambling yet insightful recounting of that early life.
Tan writes seamlessly, articulating the mix of cultures. Having lived in America for 40-odd years, Winnie can explain that "getting married in those days was like buying real estate. Here you see a house you want to live in, you find a real estate agent. Back in China, you saw a rich family with a daughter, you found a go-between who knew how to make a good business deal."
But assimilated as she is, certain Westernisms still escape her: She remembers finding a "dirty book" in Pearl's room; it was called "Catche Her in the Ride." And then there's the well-known American expression, "Eat, Drink and Be Married."
Yet if Tan sees the humor in Winnie's experience, her novel is hardly light. Despite the book's problems—the setup for Winnie's revelations is forced—Tan has again written a moving story about family, obligation and love. (Putnam, $21.95)
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