The Kitchen God's Wife, page 1
Table of Contents
I - THE SHOP OF THE GODS
Chapter 2 - GRAND AUNTIE DU’S FUNERAL
Chapter 3 - WHEN FISH ARE THREE DAYS OLD
Chapter 4 - LONG, LONG DISTANCE
Chapter 5 - TEN THOUSAND THINGS
Chapter 6 - PEANUT’S FORTUNE
Chapter 7 - DOWRY COUNTING
Chapter 8 - TOO MUCH YIN
Chapter 9 - BEST TIME OF YEAR
Chapter 10 - LOYANG LUCK
Chapter 11 - FOUR SPLITS, FIVE CRACKS
Chapter 12 - TAONAN MONEY
Chapter 13 - HEAVEN’S BREATH
Chapter 14 - BAD EYE
Chapter 15 - A FLEA ON A TIGER’S HEAD
Chapter 16 - THE GREAT WORLD
Chapter 17 - THE FOUR GATES
Chapter 18 - AMERICAN DANCE
Chapter 19 - WEAK AND STRONG
Chapter 20 - FOUR DAUGHTERS ON THE TABLE
Chapter 21 - LITTLE YU’S MOTHER
Chapter 22 - ONE SEASON LEFT
Chapter 23 - SINCERELY YOURS TRULY
Chapter 24 - FAVOR
Chapter 25 - BAO-BAO’S WEDDING
Chapter 26 - SORROWFREE
FOR THE BEST IN PAPERBACKS, LOOK FOR THE
Praise for The Kitchen God’s Wife
“The book takes flight ... As the story all but tells itself—so seamlessly it feels as if Tan’s ancestors are speaking through her—it bestows on us a host of luminous surprises.... Almost every page of the old wife’s tale is lit up with the magic of a world in which birds can sound like women crying and sweaters are knit in the memory of spider webs. Yet all the storybook marvels are grounded in a survivor’s vinegar wit. And in front of the watercolor backdrops are horrors pitiless enough to mount a powerful indictment against a world in which women were taught that love means always having to say you’re sorry.... Tan has transcended herself again.”
“An absorbing narrative of Winnie Louie’s life, which she tells—or offers—as a gift to her daughter Pearl. Much happens in the telling: long-held secrets are revealed, and a family’s myths are transferred ceremoniously on to the next generation.... Tan returns to the richly textured world of California’s immigrant Chinese ... with its brilliant tapestry of characters and conflicts here and overseas.... She is a wonderful writer with a rare power to touch the heart.”
“Riveting ... The book rings with distinctive voices, and it’s laden with those details that make readers feel they’ve gained a toehold on another world.”
“A beautiful book ... What fascinates in The Kitchen God’s Wife is not only the insistent storytelling but the details of Chinese life and tradition; not only how people lived but how their sensibility shines through, most notably in their speech. For Amy Tan has command of a language in which event and concrete perception jump into palpable metaphor and images from the daily world act like spiritual agents.”
—Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Amy Tan is foremost a storyteller.... Almost every page is a tour through the senses, making the smells, sounds, sights, tastes and textures of pre-Communist China as real and alive as squirming eels and screaming sidewalk vendors.... An often breathtaking story from an important literary talent.”
—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“Remarkable ... An absolutely riveting tale of a life that has indeed flowed inexorably forward like a river... This woman with ‘pretty skin, foolish heart, strong will, scared bones,’ speaks with a voice that is unforgettable. She is an incredibly rich character, whose flaws are as understandable as her strengths.”
“The Kitchen God’s Wife above all tells the story of how Winnie was once Weiwei, the most richly imagined character Ms. Tan has yet created.... Winnie lays her life out in gorgeous, raw detail, a succession of characters—many of whom grow in depth and complexity as the book progresses.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“An entire world unfolds in a Tolstoyan tide of event and detail.... Give yourself over to the world Ms. Tan creates for you.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Gripping, sweeping ... Amy Tan stitches a beautiful literary tapestry, rich and dense with color, texture, pattern.... This is incantatory prose, a breathless roller coaster ride through a brilliant desperate world made magic by superstition and old wives’ tales and the pure drama of hard times. ... Amy Tan is one of our master storytellers.”
—The Miami Herald
“Mesmerizing ... compelling ... The Kitchen God’s Wife is a single, bold blossom that represents Tan’s own flowering as a novelist.... Tan paints not only a vivid portrait of one woman’s amazing life but also a memorable, detailed picture of the repressive society that dictated that life.... The narrative is so powerful, so true, that one believes wholeheartedly in Winnie, that her story was somehow fated to be told. How fortunate readers are that Amy Tan has told it so well.”
“Riveting story ... The Kitchen God’s Wife hooks you early, drawing you into a life, a culture and a period in history that exert a mesmerizing appeal. ... Tan gives us an intimate and memorable portrait.”
—The Seattle Times
“One extraordinary aspect (among many) of Amy Tan’s second novel is its narrative drive.... It is a story of sweeping scope ... told with the kind of convincing detail that gives fiction the ring of truth.... Tan’s greatest accomplishment here is the character of Winnie herself, who is both innocent and sly, generous and selfish, appealing and annoying—woman not unlike Emma Bovary.... Winnie makes The Kitchen God’s Wife the kind of novel that can be read and reread with enormous pleasure.”
“The Kitchen God’s Wife, like a Chinese proverb, is paradoxical and wise. ... The energy and intelligence of Tan’s prose will also leave a reader looking forward to her future efforts.”
—The Milwaukee Journal
PENGUIN BOOKS THE KITCHEN GOD’S WIFE
Amy Tan is the author of The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God’s Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, Saving Fish from Drowning, and two children’s books, The Moon Lady and Sagwa, which was adapted as a PBS production, for which she served as a creative consultant and writer. Tan was also a coproducer and coscreen-writer of the film version of The Joy Luck Club, and her essays and stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. She is the literary editor for WEST, the weekly magazine produced by the Los Angeles Times. Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages. She lives with her husband in New York and San Francisco.
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England
First published in the United States of America by G. P. Putnam’s Sons 1991
Published simultaneously in Canada Published in Penguin Books 2006
Copyright © Amy Tan, 1991
All rights reserved
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The kitchen god’s wife / Amy Tan.
eISBN : 978-1-101-00715-0
PS3570.A48K-7828 CIP 813’.54—dc20
The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
TO MY MOTHER, DAISY TAN,
AND HER HAPPY MEMORIES OF
MY FATHER, JOHN (1914-1968),
AND MY BROTHER PETER (1950-1967)
WITH LOVE AND RESPECT
I am grateful to the other mothers of this book:
Sandra Dijkstra, Molly Giles, and Faith Sale.
As a writer, I feel lucky to have your wisdom and advice.
As a friend, I feel blessed. And thanks always to
Robert Foothorap, Gretchen Schields, and Lou DeMattei
for warmth, humor, and Chinese take-out food—
essential ingredients for writing this book.
THE SHOP OF THE GODS
Whenever my mother talks to me, she begins the conversation as if we were already in the middle of an argument.
“Pearl-ah, have to go, no choice,” my mother said when she phoned last week. After several minutes I learned the reason for her call: Auntie Helen was inviting the whole family to my cousin Bao-bao’s engagement party.
“The whole family” means the Kwongs and the Louies. The Kwongs are Auntie Helen, Uncle Henry, Mary, Frank, and Bao-bao. And these days “the Louies” really refers only to my mother and me, since my father is dead and my brother, Samuel, lives in New Jersey. We’ve been known as “the whole family” for as long as I can remember, even though the Kwongs aren’t related to us by blood, just by marriage; Auntie Helen’s first husband was my mother’s brother, who died long before I was born.
And then there’s my cousin Bao-bao, whose real name is Roger. Everyone in the family has been calling him Bao-bao ever since he was a baby, which is what bao-bao means, “precious baby.” Later, we kept calling him that because he was the crybaby who always wailed the minute my aunt and uncle walked in the door, claiming we other kids had been picking on him. And even though he’s now thirty-one years old, we still think of him as Bao-bao—and we’re still picking on him.
“Bao-bao? How can he have an engagement party?” I said. “This will be his third marriage.”
“Fourth engagement!” my mother said. “Last one he didn’t marry, broken off after we already sent a gift. Of course, Helen is not calling it engagement party. She is saying this is a big reunion for Mary.”
“Mary is coming?” I asked. Mary and I have a history that goes beyond being cousins. She’s married to Doug Cheu, who went to medical school with my husband, Phil Brandt, and in fact, she was the one who introduced us to each other sixteen years ago.
“Mary is coming, husband and children, too,” my mother said. “Flying from Los Angeles next week. No time to get a special discount. Full-price tickets, can you imagine?”
“Next week?” I said, searching for excuses. “It’s kind of late notice to change our plans. We’re supposed to—”
“Auntie Helen already counted you in. Big banquet dinner at Water Dragon Restaurant—five tables. If you don’t come she is one-half table short.”
I pictured Auntie Helen, who is already quite short and round, shrinking to the size of a table leg. “Who else is coming?”
“Lots of big, important people,” my mother answered, saying the word “important” as if to refer to people she didn’t like. “Of course, she is also telling people Bao-bao will be there with his new fiancée. And then everybody asks, ‘Fiancée? Bao-bao has a new fiancée?’ Then Helen, she says, ‘Oh, I forgot. This is supposed to be a big surprise announcement. Promise not to tell.’ ”
My mother sniffed. “She lets everyone know that way. So now you have to bring a gift, also a surprise. Last time what did you buy?”
“For Bao-bao and that college girl? I don’t know, maybe a candy dish.”
“After they broke up, did he send it back?”
“Probably not. I don’t remember.”
“You see! That’s how the Kwongs are. This time don’t spend so much.”
Two days before the dinner I got another phone call from my mother.
“Now it is too late to do anything about it,” she said, as if whatever it was were my fault. And then she told me Grand Auntie Du was dead at age ninety-seven. This news did come to me as a surprise; I thought she had already died years ago.
“She left you nice things,” my mother said. “You can come get it this weekend.”
Grand Auntie Du was actually Helen’s blood relative, her father’s half sister, or some such thing. I remember, however, it was my mother who had always helped take care of Grand Auntie. She carried out her garbage every week. She kept the old lady from subscribing to magazines every time she got a sweepstakes notice with her name printed next to the words “One Million Dollars.” She petitioned Medi-Cal over and over again to pay for Grand Auntie’s herbal medicines.
For years my mother used to complain to me how she did these things—not Helen. “Helen, she doesn’t even offer,” my mother would say. And then one day—this was maybe ten years ago—I cut my mother off. I said, “Why don’t you just tell Auntie Helen what’s bothering you and stop complaining?” This was what Phil had suggested I say, a perfectly reasonable way to get my mother to realize what was making her miserable so she could finally take positive action.
But when I said that, my mother looked at me with a blank face and absolute silence. And after that, she did stop complaining to me. In fact, she stopped talking to me for about two months. And when we did start talking again, there was no mention of Grand Auntie Du ever again. I guess that’s why I came to think that Grand Auntie had already died long ago.
“What was it?” I asked when I heard the news, trying to sound quiet and shocked. “A stroke?”
“A bus,” my mother said.
Apparently, Grand Auntie Du had been in vigorous health, right up to the end. She was riding the One California bus when it lurched to the side to avoid what my mother described as a “hotrod with crazy teenagers” running a stop sign. Grand Auntie pitched forward and fell in the aisle. My mother had gone right away to visit her at the hospital, of course. The doctors couldn’t find anything wrong, besides the usual bumps and bruises. But Grand Auntie said she couldn’t wait for the doctors to find out what she already knew. So she made my mother write down her will, who should get the thirty-year-old nubby sofa, her black-and-white TV set, that sort of thing. Late that night, she died of an undetected concussion. Helen had been planning to visit the next day, too late.
“Bao-bao Roger said we should sue, one million dollars,” my mother reported. “Can you imagine? That kind of thinking. When we found out Grand Auntie died, he didn’t cry, only wants to make money off her dead body! Hnh! Why should I tell him she left him two lamps? Maybe I will forget to tell him.”
My mother paused. “She was a good lady. Fourteen wreaths already.” And then she whispered: “Of course, we are giving everyon
My mother and Auntie Helen co-own Ding Ho Flower Shop on Ross Alley in Chinatown. They got the idea of starting the business about twenty-five years ago, right after my father died and Auntie Helen was fired from her job. I suppose, in some way, the flower shop became the dream that would replace the disasters.
My mother had used the money donated by the First Chinese Baptist Church, where my father had served as an assistant pastor. And Auntie Helen used the money she had saved from her job at another flower shop, which was where she learned the business. That was also the place that had fired her. For being “too honest,” is what Auntie Helen revealed to us as the reason. Although my mother suspected it was because Auntie Helen always urged her customers to buy the cheapest bouquets to save money.
“Sometimes I regret that I ever married into a Chinese family,” Phil said when he heard we had to go to San Francisco, a hundred miles round-trip from our house in San Jose, made worse by weekend football traffic. Although he’s become genuinely fond of my mother over the fifteen years we’ve been married, he’s still exasperated by her demands. And a weekend with the extended family is definitely not his preferred way to spend his days off from the hospital.
“Are you sure we have to go?” he said absently. He was busy playing with a new software program he had just loaded onto his laptop computer. He pressed a key. “Hotcha!” he exclaimed to the screen, and clapped his hands. Phil is forty-three years old, and with his wiry gray hair he usually strikes most people as reserved and dignified. At that moment, however, he had the pure intensity of a little boy playing with a toy battleship.