The Kitchen God’s Wife


Author:  Tan, Amy

TitleThe Kitchen God’s Wife

Genre: Women’s Lives and Relationships

Publication Date: 1991

Number of Pages:  415

Geographical Setting: China and California

Time Period: Present Day to 1940s China

Series:  No

Plot Summary:  Winnie, a first generation immigrant from China and her American-born daughter, Pearl, are both bearing hardships they are keeping from each other. Each is unsure of how their heartbreaking revelations will affect the other.  Encouraged be a fellow émigré, Winnie gradually reveals her secrets about her life in China circa World War II as well as her struggle to build a new life in America. Winnie’s new insights help Pearl gain more of an understanding of her mother’s behavior.  This book is an immigrant story of survival as well as a timeless tale of the hopes, dreams, and generational misapprehension of mother-daughter relationships.

Subject Headings:  Mother and daughter, Chinese-American women, Women multiple sclerosis patients

Appeal:  contemplative, earnest, humorous, philosophical, poignant, sympathetic, well-drawn, character-centered, family-centered, tragic, historical details, colorful, well-crafted, layered

3 terms that best describe the book: truthful, humorous, moving

3 relevant Non-fiction Works and Authors

Beyond the Narrow Gate:  The Journey of Four Chinese Women from the Middle Kingdom to Middle America by Leslie Chang

This book explores four Chinese women’s journeys to America, fleeing the Communist Red Army in the late 1940s.  One of the women is the author, Leslie Chang’s mother.

Remaking Chinese America:  Immigration, Family, and Community, 1940-1965 by Xiaojian  Zhao

Prior to 1940, the immigrant Chinese population in America was male.  However, like Winnie, between 1940 and 1965 the émigrés were women.  As a result Chinese Americans became more family-centered and involved in networking to gain equal rights in society.

The Woman Warrior:  Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston

Like Pearl, the author is the daughter of Chinese immigrants and she grew up in California.  Kingston compares her upbringing and lifestyle to that of her mother’s, where women had to be clever in a culture that subjugated them to submissive roles.

3 relevant Non-fiction Works and Authors

Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros

Like The Kitchen God’s Wife, this book is about the immigrant experience across generations as well as the family connections that both complicate and make life worthwhile.  Cisneros blends heartfelt moments and humor, in the same manner as Amy Tan.

Who’s Irish: Stories by Gish Jen

The narrator of the story is an older Chinese woman whose assimilated daughter has married into an Irish family.  Like Wife, one of the themes is the tension between mothers and daughters, especially when the immigrant mother feels her daughter has strayed too far from her Chinese cultural identity.

Hunger: A Novella and Stories Lan  Samantha Chang

These stories are about the lost loves of immigrant families and how such disappointments and hopes have fundamentally altered Chinese American lives forever because of a connection with a new culture.

Rosemary Sullivan


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