Book review: Good Chinese Wife
When I first heard of “Good Chinese Wife”, by Susan Blumberg-Kason, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read it or not. Why? Because of the description, which sounded terrifying:
A real-life, cross-cultural fairy tale gone horribly wrong
When Susan, a shy Midwesterner in love with Chinese culture, started grad school in Hong Kong, she quickly fell for Cai, the man of her dreams. As they exchanged vows, Susan was sure her life was perfect…until things took a sinister turn.
In her eye-opening memoir, Susan recounts her struggle to be the perfect “Chinese” wife to her increasingly controlling and abusive husband. At first, she dismisses her own values to save the marriage. But when Cai threatens to take their son, Jake, back to China for good, Susan must find the courage to stand up for herself, her son, and her future.
I think too much about everything. I can’t help imagining all the possible outcomes for every important decision I make. So, being in a relationship with a Chinese man, of course I have thought of what would happen if it went wrong, and what would happen if it went wrong AND we had a kid. But enough of that.
However, the book’s description was also intriguing. I wanted to know what happened to Susan. So I started reading and finished the book in a few days. I couldn’t put it down. I had to know what was going to happen next!
So this is the story of Susan, a young woman who was studying in Hong Kong, met a Chinese guy ten years older than her, fell madly in love and got married quite fast. At first everything seems good, but soon problems start to appear in paradise. Her husband spends their wedding night watching a porn movie. They go to Shanghai and he refuses to take her to the foreign languages bookstore, although he had promised to go and she needed to buy books. He gets mad at her and gives her the cold shoulder for the whole day. Susan wants to think her husband’s peculiarities are due to cultural differences and tries her best to accommodate to what is expected of her. She wants to be a good Chinese wife. Even better! She wants to be the perfect Chinese wife.
I think the book cover depicts very well the underlying story: fragile pieces of porcelain, put on top of each other in a delicate balance that can crumble at any moment. The same balance that Susan needed to obtain for her marriage, doing everything she could to adjust to the ideal Chinese wife traits: sweet, caring, soft spoken. So when her husband gets mad at her she doesn’t put up a fight and tries to find explanations for his behaviour. Again, she thinks it might be cultural differences. But are they? Are Chinese husbands supposed to not listen or not care about their wives’ wishes, among others? Later they move to the States; her husband doesn’t seem to adjust well, can’t find a job that interests him, finds hard to meet friends, he’s very pessimist about his situation. Again, Susan thinks it is due to cultural differences, he just needs more time. But is it just that? “Cultural differences” is a dangerous excuse to explain behaviours you wouldn’t accept otherwise.
Finally, after seeing no signs of improvement, Susan has to start facing reality. No more excuses, no more self-made explanations. A decision has to be made.
I would recommend “Good Chinese Wife” to anyone interested in intercultural relationships, but also to anyone interested in reading about relationships and the problems that may arise in them; in the end, intercultural relationships are above all between two individuals, regardless of where they come from. Intercultural couples need to find a balance between two cultures, but also between two personalities, which is what every couple does.
Do you want to know more about the author and the book? You can have a look at the author’s interview in Speaking of China, Karen Ma’s blog, Chinese Tools and Tone deaf in Thailand, or read the reviews published in Texan in Tokyo, Living a dream in China, The grand narrative and My Hong Kong husband.