Book discussion: The Kitchen God's Wife, by Amy Tan

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?

I love Amy Tan, and her books frustrate me to some degree for the same reason they frustrate you - I know all those women from my own life and I want to yell at some of them.

It’s been a long time since I read The Kitchen God’s Wife, though, so I can’t comment too much about the story. All her books have the same “exposition” style, though. Present-day life is put aside to hear someone’s story from the past, and then at the end you go back to the present with a greater understanding of the characters’ issues and motives. Maybe for some people that gets old after a while, but as far as I’m concerned, if the stories stay compelling, who cares.

Born in Taiwan, came to the States when I was 6.

I read Amy Tan for a high school English class project (we had to pick two authors and compare two of their works; my choices were Tan and Joseph Heller).

It was…I dunno. Maybe I just wasn’t raised in the same environment, but it felt less of a real look into the life of Asian Americans than a collection of cliches: 1) ohnoez, Mother is too conservative and withdrawn to share her real feeeeeeelings! 2) Men are Eeeeeeevil! The Old Way of Life is Eeeeeeeeevil! 3) The American Way isn’t that much better, either, because it makes you feel hollow inside and question your identity. Question it! Question it hard! Appreciate that your parents had to walk Uphill! Both ways! Barefoot! In the Snow! to get you where you are today, appreciate it! shakes fist

It doesn’t help that of the books I read, they had the same character archetypes. I was like: “man, didn’t I already read this plot before…?”

A friend of mine says all of Amy Tan’s books can be summed up with five words: “My husband, he bad man.”

Read Joy Luck Club my senior year of high school and loved it–although I wasn’t thrilled by the amount of bad stuff which happened to certain characters.

Read the Kitchen God’s Wife the next summer–I think. Enjoyed it, but got impatient with it as well, have never read any Amy Tan since. I think.

So, nothing profound to add to this thread.


I agree that the Amy Tan’s characters tend to turn up over and over but I do enjoy her books simply for a look at a different culture and how motivations can really differ between cultures as well. I found the stories to be interesting and the plots of all the flashbacks/stories within the novel were well done. In most (all? its been awhile since I have read any of her books) of the novels, the characters are in a war-time environment and those sort of books always fascinate me. I think Tan’s structure works best in The Joy Luck Club since the present and past characters shared the load, plotwise and were all very well developed.