I finished The Kitchen God’s Wife, by Amy Tan. It’s a very good book. I then started reading an American classic, The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I just want to say this about Hawthorne’s classic — the “preface” is 36 pages long, and Chapter 1 is only one and a half pages! The preface is titled as an introduction, and called The Custom-House.
It took me two days to get pass that 36 pages. It was so boring I kept falling asleep, or I had to re-read the same paragraphs and pages five times to let the words sink in because my brain wasn’t really paying attention to anything I had read. What a terrible start to a novel! (I’m reading it because it’so one of my Barnes & Noble Signature Editions that I bought… hardcover with a beautiful cover jacket, only $6.95!!!) I suggest you skip the preface and go straight to Chapter 1; the thing with the preface was I wasn’t sure if I was reading an introduction to the novel, which I usually never read anyway, or if I was actually reading the novel itself. Anyway, I digress!
The Kitchen God’s Wife is a New York Times Bestseller (like all of Tan’s novels), and like her first novel it deals with the inter-cultural relationship of a Chinese mother with an American daughter. The novel was first published in 1991, and is considered semi-autobiographical of the author’s own life. The book was on the NYT Bestseller List for a total of 38 weeks. It has since been translated into multiple languages, and the body of the novel is Winnie Louie (also known as Jiang Weili) telling her daughter about her life in China before she arrived in America.
Weili is the daughter of a wealthy businessman, but she is disgraced when her mother abandons her and her husband, supposedly for her own desires. The era of the story is during the Second Sino-Japanese War (which later became part of the greater WWII conflict after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor), and the Revolution era between the Nationalist and Communist parties. I personally enjoyed the novel because it reminded me of so many things that my mother tells me about China.
Weili is set up by the local matchmaker into a marriage with a bad man from a bad family, only she doesn’t realize this until it’s too late, and she foolishly believes that she has been given a good match. What I enjoyed the most about this novel is the historical accounts of the war (although a fictional novel). I mean, I’ve read so many novels about Jews during WWII, about Americans during WWII, even about the Japanese during WWII, so I’m glad there’s a novel about the Chinese during WWII. Although there are many non-fiction books about this era available too, like what happened in Nanking and biographies about John Rabe and Japanese atrocities in the Pacific Theater, things like that… but research books are usually very dull for me. (John Rabe is one of my humanitarian heroes, along with Oskar Schindler, during the WWII era.)
The book is filled with detailed descriptions of clothing, traditions, customs, places, foods, etc. It really is a very vibrant and colorful account of China. I’m not sure I’d call it a “love story” though, seem like more heartache than anything else; but Weili does fall in love with an American service member named Jimmy (James) Louie, who is in China as a translator for the government during the war. He meets her at a Christmas party that the American service members are hosting, and the Chinese Air Force personnel are invited along with their spouses. By a chance encounter, fate or destiny, they meet again five years later. He helps her to escape her abusive husband, Wen Fu… and I wouldn’t say the novel has a “happy ending”, but it seems that way because the bulk of the story is very sad and depressing, so you’re kind of relieved when she’s able to finally be reunited with Jimmy in America.
There’s a part in the novel that made me cry. It was very sad… it made me think of my eldest brother who has passed away, and how sad my mom must be about him — he died in China and he’s buried on our family land over there. He died as a baby, before my other brothers and I were born.
I suppose I like this novel so much because it breaks a little of the cultural barrier I have with my mother. I think of my mother as this backwards Chinese traditionalist, who is so unsophisticated with the modern world — but I’m sure she sees in me, her lazy, greedy and ignorant American daughter.