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In the middle of summer, 1945, Winnie is twenty-seven and the war has ended. Winnie has been married for eight years, and Danru is already five. The morning after they find out about the end of the war, Helen, Jiaguo, Auntie Du, Wen Fu,Winnie and other pilots leave Kunming on a bus crossing roads and witnessing the remains of war. When they reach Wuchang, Helen must separate from Winnie and Auntie Du, and it is a sad parting because they are going different ways.
When Winnie, Wen Fu, and Danru arrive in Shanghai, they go to Winnie's father's house. Wen Fu had hoped he would take them in, and Winnie, independently, had been planning to tell him about the horrors of her marriage. When they arrive at the house, however, the war had changed everything. The house was in disrepair, and an old servant answers the door, welcoming them into an empty house. When she sees her father, she realizes that he is old and ill. It is San Ma who tells her the story of what had happened to her father and to the house.
After the war had begun her father's business had begun to do poorly. In 1941, a Japanese officer came to the house and, while admiring Jiang Sao-Yen's (Winnie's father) possessions, hinted to her father that it would benefit him to join with the Japanese and serve as an example to other Chinese businesses. Jiang Sao-Yen, instead, threw his cup of tea at his own hundred-year-old scroll painting, in an act of defiance. Two days later, however, he had joined with the Japanese and displayed a large poster hanging form the gates of his house encouraging others to do the same. The business became more successful but Jiang Sao-Yen had a stroke and when the war was over, the Chinese (Kuomintang) took over the factory, pardoning his life temporarily only because he was so ill.
Wen Fu takes advantage of his father-in-law's position and tells him that he can help him since he is a "Kuomintang hero." And he proceeds to say that he will need to take over his finances in order to fully help him. It is in this way that Wen Fu's family moves into Winnie's father's house and takes over.
Winnie decides that she would leave her marriage, even if she did not yet know exactly how; but not before she and Danru visited her Aunts. When she sees her old house and her Aunts, Winnie is taken aback by the sentiment she feels toward them. The meeting is, surprisingly, a happy one, and she realizes that she feels more love for them than she has thought. Her Uncle and her Aunts also have their own story, since no one is left unaffected by the war.
When she sees the house it is, like her father's in disrepair, and her uncle, also like her father, is like a man "walking in his dreams." Her younger cousins have not graduated from University but are instead working, carrying steel to build ships. When Winnie asks about Peanut, Uncle claims that she is "dead." This is only figuratively speaking, however, since he says this only because he is angry with her for having left her marriage. New Aunt explains to Winnie that Peanut has left her marriage and is living with the communists and that when she left her husband had posted an ad in all of the newspapers, large and small, that he was divorcing his "deserter wife." This, of course, was an embarrassment to Peanut's family. It was also dangerous that their daughter is a communist because it puts them in danger with the current government. Nevertheless, as Winnie listens to all of this she wonders how Peanut was able to leave her marriage.
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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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