The Kitchen Gods Wife is a novel by Amy Tan, and, like most of her works, is a novel about Chinese-American women female identity.The first few chapters follow Pearl Brandt, a Chinese-American in San Jose, California, as she describes her "family" - her American husband and two daughters, her mother Winnie, her overbearing Aunt Helen (who is supposedly Winnie's sister-in-law or something; she and Winnie have kept each other's secrets for a long time), and the rest of Helen's family as they prepare for, first, the nth engagement party of Pearl's obnoxious cousin Bao-bao, and then the burial of her Great Aunt Du. Pearl and her family see these obligations as a chore, presumably because Pearl herself is immersed in her American identity. They go anyway, and it's revealed that Pearl has multiple sclerosis (something she has told Helen, but not her own mother). Helen tells her she has a brain tumor and that she refuses to die without Winnie knowing about Pearl's sickness.Meanwhile, Helen also tells Winnie that she must tell her estranged daughter her own Dark and Troubled Past herself, or Helen will tell her herself.At that point, the narrative switches to Winnie's point of view as she details her life to Pearl - her time as a daughter of a wealthy man's lesser wife, how she was sent to her uncle after her mother's disappearance, and the story of how she survived both her first terrible marriage and World War II.
The Atoner: Jiaguo, Helen's first husband, marries her because he feels he has to atone for her sister's Death by Childbirth, which was partly his fault - it was his child and he refused to acknowledge so.
Dirty Coward: Wen Fu, who comes out of war unscathed thanks to not actually doing any fighting - every time they're involved in a battle, Wen Fu flies off and tells the captain he was "trailing a Japanese plane."
Fourth Date Marriage: Wen Fu and Winnie, whom she'd known for only a few months before they get married. Also played with with Jimmy and Winnie, they go on all of two dates (excluding the dance at which they met) before they decide they're perfect for each other. It's a while before they marry, though.
Missing Mom: Even in adulthood, Winnie does not fully understand her mother's disappearance. Her aunts' and uncle's disappearance theories don't help much. It's implied that she abandoned Winnie, though.
Obfuscating Stupidity: Helen knew for a long time that Pearl was Wen Fu's biological daughter. Her making excuses for Wen Fu's awful behavior was her way of trying to keep Winnie from resenting Pearl. The moment she learns that Winnie and Pearl have achieved some common ground, she ditches the act and curses Wen Fu's memory.
Obnoxious In-Laws: Phil sees Pearl's family as this. He's not that far from the truth.
Title Drop: The "Kitchen God" was a man who took his hardworking wife for granted, and, when his mistress drove her away, did not do anything to help her. Once she leaves, his fortune (that accumulated thanks to her diligence) dwindles, and he realizes how much better off he was with her, despite all the suffering she went through thanks to him. Winnie subsequently relates her life story to her.
The Unfavourite: Winnie, so much. After her mother disappeared, she was the unfavourite in her wealthy father's household until she was sent to live with her uncle and his two wives. And they still treated her cousin Peanut better.
Wartime Wedding: Winnie and Wen Fu get married just before World War II breaks out.
What Could Have Been: Winnie often wonders what life would have been like if she did not marry Wen Fu.