“The Good Chinese Wife” Book Review: How far should you actually go for love?

Good Chinese Wife Book Review Cover Susan Before you even crack open “The Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair With China Gone Wrong,” you kind of already know what it’s going to be about.

A woman tries to be a good Chinese wife, but her marriage fails anyways. I wasn’t expecting it to be a trashy romance, romantic-comedy book… and ended up really loving the book.

I was interested in this book not only because it is about an American woman married to a Chinese man – a rarity because the only other books I know in that field are “Kissing Outside the Lines” by Diana Farr [American wife, Korean husband] and “Marriage in Translation” by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga [anthology of American/foreign wife, Japanese husband] – but also because it promised an ‘unhappy’ ending.

I used to, well, love “Love stories.” But then I actually fell in love and got married.

Now I find myself frustrated with the “Happily Ever After” ending, like getting married magically “solves” all your problems.

Marriage doesn’t solve any problems. If anything, it makes some of them worse. The arguments my husband and I have as a married couple are completely different than the arguments we had as “just” boyfriend/girlfriend.

It’s not such a big deal if my boyfriend wants to go out drinking twice a night with his friends. That’s his choice. However, it is a big deal if the future father of my 3-4 children is wasting time/quality “couple time” out drinking with friends.

Arguments like that spring up from time to time – things I used to do that the thought were “kind of cute” now drive him crazy.

So believe me when I say that I was 100% into hearing “real talk” about an AMWF relationship in “The Good Chinese Wife.” [In case anyone doesn’t know, AMWF is a sort of “slang term” used to define an Asian Male dating/married to a White Female]

The premise of the book is pretty straightforward.

It is a memoir written by Susan Blumberg-Kason.

+ To order the book (or just check it out on Amazon.com), click here

Susan Blumberg-Kason author photo

Susan Blumberg-Kason

While Susan is studying in Hong Kong, she meets an attractive Chinese man, “Cai.” He essentially proposes before the even begin dating, they seal the deal with a kiss, and are married shortly after.

But then cracks start to appear in their marriage. There are late nights, sneaking around, porn, STDs, marathon rounds of “the silent game,” one-sided fights, and a lot of miscommunication.

They move to the US. A baby is born. Things don’t get better.

She realizes she might be in an abusive relationship… but isn’t ready to just throw in the towel. Things get worse.

Here’s the thing about abusive relationships – you don’t know what they’re like until you’ve actually been in one. I haven’t been in one. I never will be in one, because I got lucky and married someone who is far more supportive and nurturing than I am. My husband makes me feel stronger, wiser, and more in-control.

But I have seen abusive relationships. Sometimes the abused wises up and leaves. Often they don’t.

It doesn’t matter what anyone says or anyone does – you physically can’t make someone else change unless they want to change.

My favorite part of this book was when the author realized that she wanted to change.

She needed to change.

And she did.

I highly recommend you read the book a Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong

It’s hard to read books like these, as you slowly watch the supposed “fairy-tale” life crumble. But without the bitter, you can’t appreciate the sweet.

I highly recommend this book to anyone currently in or thinking about jumping into an intercultural relationship. When you fall in love with someone from a different culture, there is no “normal.”

Everything is a decision.

Do you do the housework their way or your way? What about gender roles? What about family visits? What about raising (possible, future) children? Friends of the opposite sex? Gambling, drinking, and spending money?

Don’t get me wrong, I love my own intercultural marriage. I’ve learned so much not only about myself, but also about American, Texan, and Japanese culture. I love exactly where I am right now.

Susan’s memoir, ” The Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair With China Gone Wrong” is a thrilling, cautionary tale about forsaking your own identity to make your partner happy.

About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

35 Comments on “The Good Chinese Wife” Book Review: How far should you actually go for love?

  1. Lots of daily positive communication, listening, trust and fidelity is helpful…well, for any marriage.

  2. realgunners // 18 July, 2014 at 4:15 pm //

    Will it be available in Google Play Books anytime soon? It’s a pain for me to buy physical items from Amazon when I’m not State side.
    I actually feel stressed out when I saw the book title. The word “Chinese” is not supposed to have a place there. There is Good wife, and Bad wife, full stop. I mean, people should get married because they love each other for who they are, right? It cannot be “I love you, but I need you to behave more like Chinese/Korean/whatever”. If you want a Chinese wife then f**king go find a Chinese wife instead!
    Sorry, I think I got carried away. Maybe I should try to get my hands on the book first..

    • I think it the title makes more sense if you read the book. It’s kind of talking about trying to be the “perfect Chinese wife” … assuming all the problems in their marriage was because she wasn’t a good enough Chinese wife – that it was cultural rather than personality based – when most of the problems came from the fact there was a misscommunication and they had radically different personalities/ideals/goals, etc

  3. Grace:

    There is one more book….”Hapa Girl: A Memoir” by May-Lee Chai. It is a story by a product of an AMWW couple in the early 1980s South Dakota…guess you dont have to face those issues in Japan today.

  4. Hi Grace,

    if you love reading stories that go past the marriage point you should definitely read Ekaterina Gordeeva’s My Sergei : A love story. It’s about young love, young married life and has an “unhappy” ending because of tragedy, with on the background a competitive athlete’s life and Russia at the end of communism. It’s very inspiring, candid and emotional.

    I think what marriage actually can solve is the confidence in your partner and your relationship. With marriage you are saying to your partner and to yourself that you will plan and build a life together, that you are sure you want to spend your life together. I think that is very big, compared to girlfriend/boyfriend relationship that cannot reach this level of “seriousness”. You know your partner is committed to you and you will be there for each other. Marriage is a much bigger investment emotionally compared to just being together, where you can step back and leave anytime without much consequences, so maybe that’s why married couple’s arguments can be worse or bigger or just feel very different. But I find marriage much more attractive and sexy for this very same reason.

    Thanks for the review, I love autobiographies so I will check this one out.

    • Thanks for the book suggestion! I will check that out this weekend :)
      I LOVE memoirs (is that weird…?), so I’m always on the hunt for a good one.

      I actually really do agree with what you said about marriage. It’s a public show of commitment – which really can help a lot of things.
      My husband and I decided to get married at about the 4 month mark, but for the sake of appearance, we waited until the one year anniversary to get officially engaged and the 2 year mark to get married. I guess you’re right about the emotional investment thing, too – because the arguments certainly do fee different.

      In any case, thanks for the book suggestion!

      • I love memoirs too! And I think I love reading blogs for the same reason, they are like a “live” memoir! :-)

        It’s amazing how you had such very clears minds from the start about your relationship! It’s very refreshing to see!

        • Thanks so much~

          I actually love blogs for the exact same reason (hence my own blog – because I wanted to be able to process everything going on around me and reflect on it later).

  5. Miyagi Mermaid // 17 July, 2014 at 3:46 pm //

    Thanks for sharing, I preordered it! Sounds like it might hit home with a lot of issues I have with my boyfriend, but hopefully it’ll enlighten me on what to do. I wish it was available before the 29th, I have an international flight coming up on the 26th and it would have been nice to read it on the way.

    • Aw man. Yeah, it is a good book to bring on a flight (unless a book is gripping, I can’t get into it on a flight without motion sickness).
      I hope you learn a lot from the book!

  6. I been in a abusive relationship. This girl waaasss crrrraaaaazzzy. Crazy. I don’t know what it is but this is just from what I see, know, and experience but certain Asian girls got this crazy side. No bullshit. Latina are crazy too. In fact, all the girls I been with was crazy, white and black too,lol. Man, I need to step up my game. I need a level 5 girl: classy, intelligent, beautiful, comforting, and a great cook! I’m usually 3/5. The first sign of craziness, I’m out the door. Girls in America are becoming abusive now,lol. I need to get a foreign girl now. Hook me up Grace!

  7. realgunners // 17 July, 2014 at 10:32 am //

    You know what we Cantonese speaking guys joke about when one of us gets married? “Marriage is the graveyard of love”. Sometimes it turns out that it isn’t a joke, after all..

    • I’ve heard similar phrases in most other countries, too…
      It’s like having a girlfriend is more sexy than having a “wife” or a “mother (of your children).” Romance is difficult, I guess? And roles change after marriage…

  8. Sounds like an interesting read.

    Quick note: I’m not sure if you have a page where you disclose affiliate links, but it would be good to have it more prominent. I don’t mind supporting bloggers that way, but I like to know when I am.

    • I actually don’t have a page like that. I probably should. The only affiliate program I use is Amazon (I don’t feel comfortable doing paid reviews – that’s just a tiny bit awkward).

      Thanks for the heads up – I will add an affiliate disclosure at the bottom of pages with affiliate links~

  9. I’ve been in a abusive intercultural relationship in the past. The thing is, you don’t realize it’s one until you leave and look back on it.

    At that time, I also tried to be the “best girlfriend” because I thought most of the things were going wrong because of me. That’s how he made me feel. There was what I like to call “bells” or “alarms” that were ringing through my head from time to time, telling me something was wrong with this relationship and that I should leave. I didn’t listen to them, and I became submissive when I’m naturally pretty strong-minded.

    Looking back now, I understand that he was psychologically violent with me.

    But oddly enough, I don’t regret anything. It made me realize what I DON’T want in a relationship, and I shall never do the same mistakes again. That’s probably why right now, I’m in the best relationship I’ve ever had.

    So, when other people talk to me about their abusive relationship (often without them realizing it’s one), I try to make them understand there is actually someone better for them out there. Someone more suitable and who will take care of them.

    That book is probably very interesting. I’ll look into that!

    • I’m glad you are able to look back at your old relationship – and not be filled with regret/shame. It’s amazing that you were able to overcome it :)
      And I’m glad it taught you what you don’t want in a relationship AND how to behave in a healthy relationship.

      Off the top of my head, I know two girls who were/are in what I consider to be an abusive relationship (one interracial, one not). It was difficult to watch. One ended up breaking up with the guy (thankfully) and has come to terms with the fact that he was psychologically abusive to her. She’s doing much better now.

      It’s just… it’s such a delicate line between what you’re allowed and not allowed to say. Ugh.

  10. cronji02 // 17 July, 2014 at 3:50 am //

    Wonderful review Grace!

  11. Eric Janson // 17 July, 2014 at 2:07 am //

    Grace, thanks for sharing this. You are encouraging the abused to be strong. I think this promotion will help those on the borderline and encourage them to move forward. In the words of Hall & Oates, “the strong give up and move along, and the weak give up and stay.”
    Balance in marriage is not like a released marble rolling around and coming to rest in the bottom of a bowl. Balance is turning the bowl upside- down and keeping the marble on top. It cannot be accomplished by just one member of the relationship. When both work together to make this work it’s beautiful. If either party refuses to play, it’s time to cut losses and make a new life. That requires a lot of courage. Support and love of friends and relatives – and books like The Good Chinese Wife make a huge difference in enabling people to make the decision to exchange their current situation for an uncertain future. That is courage.

    • That was wonderfully put. I can’t really add anything else – except that I completely agree with the fact that without the unconditional support from friends and family, it is incredibly difficult to leave an abuse relationship… even if you know it’s a bad situation.
      But you can’t keep a relationship going on your own. It’s impossible.

      I get a lot of emails from people in long distance relationships who are trying to find a way to get their partner to care more – to put an equal amount of effort into the relationship – and that’s impossible. You can’t MAKE someone change. And you can’t MAKE them a better partner/put more effort into the relationship…

  12. paulakhayat // 17 July, 2014 at 1:55 am //

    Thank you for your illuminating review, Grace. I can relate – I married an Iranian (at just 19) and set about to become the best damn Persian wife EVER! This included living in Iran for several years. After 16 years, I discovered that I no longer had a clue who I was. You are far more self-aware and grounded than I was, so your delightful relationship will no doubt weather the cross-cultural storms. Thanks again – really enjoy your writing.

    • Wow. That sounds like an incredibly interesting story!
      I think it is so easy to lose yourself in a relationship… especially if there are different cultures involved. When I first moved to Japan, I also tried really hard to be a “Good Japanese Wife.”
      By husband appriciated it… but he also saw how much it was killing me. He eventually told me “Look, if I wanted to marry a Japanese girl, I would have. I married you. Just be yourself.”

      I mean, of course he wishes I did more housework and stuff – but I’m glad he’s so aware about all the changes. I don’t know if I could have survived in Japan without that.

      • True what your husband say,if he wanted to marry a Japanese, he married a Japanese. Also true what you said about cooking and cleaning (housework), most women from Asia,middle east, Africa and even old parts of Europe value that more of being a good wife. In the western world its harder for a women to be that because western society teaches us to be career oriented to be our first priority as you become an adult. From a senior I talked to told me in the 50’s that’s all a wife did in America and house wives loved it but that all change when a family couldn’t afford the house mortgage and everything went up. Before it took only 1 person income to support a family.

  13. An excellent book review, Grace.

    Reading The Good Chinese Wife helped me realize how many kinds and degrees of AMWF relationships there are. Although my late husband was born in China and grew up in China, Taiwan and Japan, he had already adjusted to life in the United States when I met him. He came from an upper-middle-class family who were also at home in the West. He suffered through the war with Japan, but his education was never seriously interrupted as Cai’s was.

    Susan and Cai had so many more challenges in their relationship than my husband and I did. I won’t say more. It’s all there in Susan’s excellent memoir.

    • Thank you so much Nicki,

      I agree. This was a very comprehensive book that showed how many factors play into intercultural marriages (especially AMWF). I’m glad you and your husband didn’t have to struggle with ALL of the same themes.

  14. Great review, I look forward to reading the book soon. Powerful themes of abusive, and a love story without a happy ending…

  15. Thank you so much, Grace! I love your review and how you shared your own experiences and thoughts about marriage.

  16. I’ll check it out when I get back to the states and find a Barnes and Nobles!

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  1. Book review: Good Chinese Wife | Marta lives in China
  2. Six Lessons I Learned Trying to be a Good Chinese Wife (Guest Post) | Texan in Tokyo

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