The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I got introduced to my first Amy Tan sometime during the beginning of 2011. My best friend leant me The Kitchen God’s Wife. I never really got around to reviewing this book, but I enjoyed reading about the relationship between a mother and daughter, separated, not only in years, but in language, culture and experience. Almost at the start of the book we are taken into the mother’s history, seeing the events that shape her into the woman she is today. Her forty-something daughter finally gets to hear her mother’s story, and they begin to develop some sort of understanding with each other.
The format is exactly the same in The Bonesetter’s Daughter. A mother and daughter have a greatly troubled relationship. They can neither of them understand the other. LuLing Young, the mother, is in her eighties and her memory is beginning to falter. She decides to write down her past before she forgets, and Ruth, her thirty-seven year old daugther, reads all about it, finally beginning to realise the reasons behind some of her mother’s more constant fears and odd behaviours over the years.
Luling’s history unfolds about half way through the book. I love how Amy Tan makes the distinction between the Americanised Chinese daughters, and the traditional Chinese mothers within the course of the narrative. When we begin reading of the mothers’ histories, the narrative becomes more descriptive, rich with Chinese symbols and motifs. At times, within the narrative of The Bonesetter’s Daughter the language would be painted on like that of a Chinese artist’s brush. I love it when we move into the ‘history’ portion of the novels, and as Chinese history is really a blank for me, I find it a lovely way to read all about it.
It has struck me, during the course of these two books, that the relationships between both sets of mothers and daughters is extremely strained. The mothers are full of superstitious beliefs, and the daughters are quite often embarrassed for their mothers. This reminds me of a trip I took earlier this year to Malaysia. When we went to the bazaar the older Chinese women were rude and cutting. If you stepped into their store you had to buy something or they quite literally threw you out! The younger women were a lot more restrained and polite. By the time I had taken this trip I had finished reading The Kitchen God’s Wife, and I simply couldn’t help but think about it whenever I came across the Chinese. It was an interesting experience. I’d never been kicked out of a shop before!! Ha ha!
But seriously, the lives these mothers have lead are so adventurous that their daughters lives in America seem so tame! I was also fascinated by the personalities these mothers exude. As old women they seem so stereotypical. But as we read about their past they are young women, so full of opinions and with incredibly strong survival instincts. They are very strong characters. I am impressed with their extremely practical side that helps them to move on optimistically, not allowing any situation drag them down, no matter how bad they are. But come to the present and they seem so quarrelsome and bad-tempered. I’m not sure I understand why the difference seems so vast. Can it be the hardships that finally make them so?
Whatever it might be, I think I’d be willing to read more books by Amy Tan. I enjoyed both these books very much! I understand that all her books are based on mother-daughter scenarios, but I doubt this would get old if her story-telling is so good.