I admit I don’t read much Amy Tan, even though I am Asian (though not Chinese.) The main reason I don’t read her is because she’s a very good author. Sound strange? Well - she paints the characters so vividly that I recognize each and every one, (even though I come from a different culture they’re similar) and it makes me want to reach in there and shake them. Just like I wanted to shake my own family.
The Kitchen God’s Wife struck particularly close to home though. The story is of a young American-raised Chinese woman who has MS, and is afraid to tell her mother. Her Aunt Helen and her mother share many secrets, and in turn, the girl’s mother is afraid to tell these secrets. Aunt Helen claim she is dying and threatens to spill the beans, and so the woman’s mom decides to tell all.
This is the setup. The rest of the book is spent in telling the mother’s story, which is alternately beautiful, sad, touching, and uplifting.
I can’t say I loved it, necessarily, but I feel like it’s part of me. For one thing I would give my left leg to talk to my mother like that and hear her story. Adoptive or biological, either one. For another thing, like in most of these books, while things don’t change drastically, underlying motives become clearer and people begin to understand each other better. I would like to understand my mother better…all my life I’ve spent trying to discover motivations for the things she did. The book made me wish even more she was willing to talk.
One of the things that bothered me about the novel, however, was that it was all one big Exposition. From the first quarter of the book almost to the end we’re supposed to believe mother & daughter are just sitting on the couch, or in the house, side-by-side, while she talks. I don’t like narratives being interrupted but it would have been more realistic if real life had intruded now and then. After almost every chapter I would be taken out of the story thinking, “They’re still talking?” I assume they stopped to get tea and whatnot, but still…
All in all, a lovely story. Now I think I will studiously avoid Amy Tan for at least another year. It’s like raking up all the coals and bitter resentments and misunderstandings and regrets of your childhood, at least for this Asian child.
Comments? Thoughts? Anyone else read Amy Tan?