Literary Wives: The Kitchen God’s Wife

Welcome to the latest post in the Literary Wives series. Every two months, a group of bloggers reads a book with word “wife” in the title, and we attempt to answer the following two questions in our posts for that month.

1. What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?

2. In what way does this woman define “wife”—or in what way is she defined by “wife”?

Please visit these other fantastic blogs for their take on this month’s book, and if you’d like to join the conversation, on our blogs or on yours by reading along, feel free to do so.

Naomi of Consumed by Ink

Kay of What Me Read

Lynn of Smoke & Mirrors

kitchen god's wife

I have a confession. I didn’t finish reading this one. We focused on Amy Tan’s The Kitchen God’s Wife (1991), and I have already read it, several years ago. I tried to reread it for this series by listening to it while driving to and from school. Although I downloaded an audio copy of it onto my phone, the recording was an old one, with terrible quality, and had Amy Tan, the author, as the reader. I could not hear it well enough to stay engaged in the story.

However, I can tell you that it tells us that being a wife, especially one in early twentieth century China, was a miserable experience. The story is framed from a grown daughter’s perspective of her Chinese mother, and we can tell that she is somewhat exasperated by her mother’s quirky habits and sometimes annoying self-pity and overbearing demeanor. Yet the real story is that of the mother’s experiences when she was younger, and we learn through her own voice (typical of Tan’s novels) that she had married out of necessity and endured the tyranny of her husband. She longed for a divorce, but could not secure one immediately. She also lost children in the course of this marriage. Her husband is cruel, abusive, domineering, and entitled because of his maleness. She is strong and has a spirit of independence. While I did not get all the way through the book, I suspect that she found a way to secure her freedom.

From this account of cruelty, we learn that wives in that era in China were seen as property. We also learn that just because they were treated badly did not mean that they did not have a desire to improve their situations. Wives are human beings, and through the experience of this wife, we see how she is able to overcome the expectations of her role and find a way to live the way she wanted to.

Because of this triumph of the human spirit, I like Tan’s books. All of them seem to follow the formula of a modern day narrative of a Chinese daughter who is frustrated with her mother; the mother then reveals her story of hardship, trial, and triumph; and the daughter learns to appreciate her heritage and her family. There is hope in Tan’s portrayal of wives.

Join us in February. We will be reviewing A Circle of Wives (2015) by Alice LaPlante.