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Winnie, Wen Fu, Helen, Jiaguo and a group of others escape Nanking with one suitcase each on a truck driven by a man they call Old Mr. Ma. Wan Betty stays behind, and Winnie gives her her sewing machine as a gift. They are traveling toward Kunming, which is almost at the end of China, and the trip is a long and arduous one. They take cars and boats and drive through poor backwaters, and they stay in places infested with stinkbugs. For the duration, Winnie is pregnant.
At a certain point they reach the village called Twenty-Four Turnarounds because it is at the bottom of a winding pass in the mountains, which is a pass they would have to take to reach the top. At a certain point up the mountain they reach a blissful kind of place above the clouds where all of them are happy for a moment despite the danger of the trip. When they finally reach the village called Heaven's Breath at the top, they hear about what had happened in Nanking. During their journey they had heard that Nanking had been taken over by the Japanese and was closed off, but in Heaven's Breath they were told the details. The Japanese had not kept their promises of peaceful take-over, and instead they had raped and pillaged in inordinate numbers.
By the time the group reaches Kunming, Winnie is eight months pregnant. They stay at a house they call yangfang, which is a foreign-style house. Winnie and Wen Fu had received the worst rooms in the house because it was facing in a bad luck direction. And Winnie did not like the inspector's wife, and Wen Fu and Winnie had to suffer through the fights between the inspector and his wife, which they heard through the wall. But this was only until the inspector died of Malaria on a trip to the Burma Road. When the inspector's wife left, Winnie paid extra money from her dowry to attain the extra room. Winnie believes that Helen was jealous of this and of the fact that Winnie also paid for a servant, which no one else had—even those who had higher positions.
When Winnie is nine months pregnant, she is sewing and singing, and she drops a pair of scissors, which is supposed to bring very bad luck. After this, Winnie feels that the baby inside of her has stopped moving. By the time she goes to the hospital, it is too late, and Winnie loses the baby (a stillborn girl). She named her Mochou, which means "sorrowfree," because, Winnie says, the baby never knew suffering. After this she didn't want to use scissors for a very long time until she becomes bored of doing nothing and decides to go into town to buy another pair. When, after some trouble, she finds the young woman Helen had told her about, she buys a pair for what she believes is a good deal. However, she feels bad about this because the scissors are made out of the steel stolen from dead Americans. Before she leaves, however, Winnie accidentally knocks over the entire table of scissors, which is bad-luck multiplied.
When she arrives back home she hears that Wen Fu has had an accident, which she attributes to the dropping of the scissors. Wen Fu had, without permission taken a jeep, and had gotten into an accident in which he was badly hurt, permanently damaging one eye. There had been a girl with him, who had died. Jiaguo had told Winnie that he would have to charge him with what he had done, but Helen had convinced him not to press charges. Secretly, Winnie had hoped that he would go to jail but nevertheless tried to repay her debt to Helen, who thought she was doing the right thing.
When Wen Fu finally woke up in the hospital, he was terrible to the nurses. He yelled at them, and even punched one of them. When they arrived home Wen Fu was bedridden. One day, Winnie held a dinner for Wen Fu's fellow pilots, in which everyone was having pleasant conversation and singing until Wen Fu came down the stairs and began to yell at Winnie for being able to sing while he was sick. He called her a whore in front of everyone and tells her to get on her knees and beg forgiveness. No one stops him, and so she is forced to do this.
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The Kitchen God's Wife is the second novel by Chinese-American author, Amy Tan. First published in 1991, it deals extensively with Sino-American female identity and draws on the story of her mother's life.
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