Tan: "The Kitchen God's Wife"

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NBC Today Show
Katie Couric
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Video News Report
NBCUniversal Media, LLC.
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In this 1990 "Today" show interview, author Amy Tan explains what inspired her second novel, "The Kitchen God's Wife," and the anxiety of writing a second book when a first book has been a bestseller.



"Tan: "The Kitchen God's Wife"." Katie Couric, correspondent. NBC Today Show. NBCUniversal Media. 17 June 1991. NBC Learn. Web. 17 January 2015.


Couric, K. (Reporter). (1991, June 17). Tan: "The Kitchen God's Wife". [Television series episode]. NBC Today Show. Retrieved from https://archives.nbclearn.com/portal/site/k-12/browse/?cuecard=41227


"Tan: "The Kitchen God's Wife"" NBC Today Show, New York, NY: NBC Universal, 06/17/1991. Accessed Sat Jan 17 2015 from NBC Learn: https://archives.nbclearn.com/portal/site/k-12/browse/?cuecard=41227


Tan: "The Kitchen God's Wife"

Katherine Couric, co-host:

Mother-daughter relationships can be complicated, at best.  But when the

mother comes from a completely different culture than the one in which

she raises her daughter, there are no words to describe it.  Unless you

are author Amy Tan, whose innocent question to her mother about life in

China became the inspiration for her new book, "The Kitchen God's Wife."

Good morning, Amy.

Amy Tan ("The Kitchen God's Wife"): Good morning.

Couric: So, you've done it.  You finished book number two.

Tan: Finally.

Couric: But not--not, I mean--not without considerable angst over it.  Why

it was so tough?

Tan: Well, I--I almost felt as though I was competing against myself.  I

had this terrible anxiety that somehow I had--I had to fulfill these

expectations, all different of about 1,000 different people.  And I

remember, in fact, at one point, feeling this terror grow and somebody

said to me, `How does it feel to have written your best book first?' And

I felt as though I was doomed before I could even begin to write that


Couric: And you were afraid the critics were going to be saying it's not

as--nearly as good as "The Joy Luck Club?"

Tan: That's right.  You know, as though--you know, you had this first

great success, and that you were only a one-book author.

Couric: And then there is the other good friend who said, `The second

book is a piece of cake.  Wait until the third.' That makes you feel

good, huh?

Tan: `Wait until--the second one is bound to be a failure.  Just forget

about it, move on.  Go on to the third book.'

Couric: Well, it's gotten rave reviews, which should make you very happy.

Tan: I'm relieved.

Couric: But, before--and relieved.  But before you came up--witness the

concept--you came up with about seven different ideas you committed to

paper that never became books.

Tan: Yeah.  I--I was trying to write something different.  I didn't want

to be pegged as the mother-daughter expert.  And at one point it was

everything from a very deep book about the revival of the Banshee

language, or the daughter of a scholar who accidentally killed somebody

with a possession of immortality.  Anything but a mother-daughter book.

Couric: But that is what you came out with this time.

Tan: That is actually what found me and, in part because it was the story

that my mother told me.  And the book "The Kitchen God's Wife" is a story

about--that a mother tells her daughter.

Couric: It came from a very casual conversation, didn't it, with your

mom?  Or just a pretty simple question about life in China before she

came to this country in 1949.  Tell me about that.

Tan: I was actually asking her about the war because I knew she lived in

China at that time.  And I said, `What was is like during that time?' And

she said, `Oh, I wasn't affected.' And I thought what she meant by that

was that she had been safely tucked away somewhere in free China.  But

then later on she was telling me more about that time and how she had to

run away three times a week from the bombs and how people who came to

dinner one week were dead the next.  And I said, `Wait a minute, you said

you weren't affected by the war.' And she said, `I wasn't, I wasn't

killed.' And it made me realize how different our perspective on life

was, based on what she had lived and what I lived.

Couric: What else struck you, Amy, about your mom's upbringing?  Was it

the repression she experienced?

Tan: It was repression, but it was also her strength, that she never gave

up.  Even though she lived in a society that offered her no choices,

that--that gave her unbelievable sorrow, she somehow could find a

strength and rise above that.  At the time that I was writing "The

Kitchen God's Wife," in fact that question of what does it take to rise

above your fears becomes very important, because of what was happening in

China in Tiananmen Square.  I mean, we all remember the image of the man

standing in front of the tank and his bravery--or maybe it was his

foolishness--but trying to figure it out, and it is so important for me

to understand what is it like to live with repression and rise above your

fears, that you don't even fear your own death?

Couric: It's about Winnie telling her daughter, Pearl, deep secrets, and

Pearl wanting to tell her mother deep secrets.  How much do you and Pearl

have in common?

Tan: Well, first I have to say that I'm a year younger than Pearl.

Couric: We have to get that straight.

Tan: Pearl and I are actually similar in some ways.  I was a speech and

language specialist, just as Pearl was.  And my father died when I was

15.  But the most striking similarity is--is our ignorance of our

mothers' past.  And I was--for, many, many years I didn't know anything

about her life, about the abusive marriage and the children she had lost.

Couric: You're uncomfortable with success.  We just have a few seconds.

Are you getting used to it now?

Tan: I don't think I'll ever get used to it.  I don't think I should.  But

it's been a wonderful reception to both books.

Couric: Well, we're certainly very glad that you've been successful.  We

look forward to your next novel.  I don't want to give you an anxiety

attack.  But, hopefully we'll talk again.  Amy Tan, thanks so much.