The Chinese myth of the Kitchen God’s Wife is a tale of a woman’s kind and broken heart. After helping her husband achieve great success, the woman is run out of her home by the husband’s floozy mistress. When the woman sees her husband again one day, he is a beggar in the streets. She shows pity on him and takes him in to work in her kitchen. He had lost everything when he took up with the mistress.
The book by Amy Tan, with the same title, is not based on this myth but encompasses much of Chinese culture, of the struggle of women to be recognized as human beings, of escape and rebuilding, and of keeping dark secrets alive…but hidden.
Pearl is an American born young Chinese woman who struggles with the fact that she and her mother are so very different. Pearl is an all-American kind of woman. She is educated, married with children, and modern. Her mother often annoys her with the way she clings to the old ways and criticizes Pearl about everything from her hair to the decor of her home.
Still, Pearl struggles with finding a way to tell her mother about a dark secret of her own that she has kept from her. Pearl’s mother, Winnie, and the woman Pearl has always known as her Aunt Helen, were born and raised in China. Suffering through the war with Japan, and with the constraints still applied on women in China then, they came to San Francisco scarred and mature women.
Determined to keep their past from tainting their new lives, they made pacts with each other to never speak of certain things. When Helen believes she is going to die, she tells Winnie that the past must be revealed. She feels the truth, their history, should be told before it is lost forever. Winnie was hoping to go to the grave with her secrets.
Helen threatens to tell her children, who will, of course, then tell Pearl. Now Winnie faces the fact that she must explain it all to her daughter before she hears it from others. Winnie must speak of everything she went through forty years before. The book begins in the present and sheds much light on the predicaments many young American’s face while dealing with parents who have immigrated.
They often struggle with huge cultural differences and must choose between pleasing their parents and being like other young Americans. Amy Tan depicts this with humor and great insight. The story then turns to Winnie, who reluctantly pours out the truth to her daughter. The reader is brought into another world! China, in the 1920’s – 1930’s, is a hard place—especially for women—and the ordeals that Winnie faced were amazing, heroic, and heart breaking.
The delicate issue of secrets and trust is woven throughout this book. There are so many interesting aspects and details of Winnie’s life in China, the reader is likely to hope for time enough to read every line of the book.
Unfortunately the audio quality of the narration is far from ideal as Amy Tan’s voice narrates this book herself with talent and a clear, sweet voice.