The Kitchen God’s Wife, by Amy Tan
Everybody suffers, and everyone remembers. But you and your best friend may see the same thing and remember it differently. We all act in ways that, to us, feel like sacrifices, gifts, or small apologies, but are interpreted by others as aggressions, mockeries, or nothing at all.
Tan’s novel features Winnie and her daughter Pearl, whose relationship has been about protecting each other. But the walls between them have grown until their attempts to spare each other and show their love result only in bitterness. Pearl, raised in America, has always resented her mother’s criticisms, old-country ways, and tempestuous emotions. But when tensions come to a head, Winnie tells Pearl everything she’s held back: childhood in rural China, life as the wife of an abusive Chinese fighter pilot through WWII, and her eventual escape to a new life in the US.
Winnie’s voice is pragmatic, frank, occasionally wistful. She brushes a sheen of ordinary poetry over the narrative by describing the sights, smells, and flavors of her past. Winnie’s translation of Chinese idioms and customs lends further richness to the tale. Tan masterfully nudges Pearl, and by extension, the reader, to inhabit an emotional and cultural landscape that may be completely unfamiliar to a Western mind.
Remember, readers: we all have our secrets.
The 213 in 2013 series chronicles every book I read in 2013. Each review contains exactly 213 words, because 2013 words is too long and 2013 characters is too dang short.