Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This. This is the book I didn't know I needed to read and deserves like a million stars. Okay, a million minus maybe a few because Daniel Lee how could you. lol.
Natalie Tan finally returns home to San Francisco's Chinatown after seven years away upon the death of her mother. Tired of running, she's given the opportunity to pursue the one dream her mother had denied her: opening a restaurant. Natalie reconnects with a community she's long resented, makes startling discoveries about her Laolao and her Ma-ma, and stumbles upon her true purpose in life. Yet as trouble and disappointments start to pile up, she has to decide if this is truly what she wants and is willing to work for... or if she's going to take the easy way out by cutting ties and running. Again.
Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune is an endearing story of friendship and neighbourliness wrapped up in the comforts of food and music, entwining the legacy of her long-dead grandmother and her late mother's one passion. Steeped in Chinese superstition and culture, Natalie's journey of self-discovery echoes the cultural dissonance often experienced by Chinese diaspora around the world. Within the comforts of home and community lurks a larger worldview hidden beneath the surface. Cultural practices and expectations are known and yet unknown, simultaneously strange yet familiar.
There's magic in this book, but not of the normal Western fantasy type. There are no dragons or fairies, spells or incantations, no mighty demons to defeat or swords bandied about. Instead, you find Miss Tsai giving prophecies at midnight over a cup of tikuanyin, the subtle home magic of food made to solve problems--Steamed Dungeness Crabs to provide courage and bravery, Drunken Chicken Wings to reinvigorate love, Noodle Soup for luck--and Natalie's newfound ability to see the problems of her neighbours in threads of energy and light, all wrapped around the mystery of Qiao's magical recipe book.
It isn't a particularly fast-paced story. Grief is a big theme in the beginning, as is guilt, and Natalie sometimes wavers over her problems for a while before deciding what to do. Lim's explanations sometimes feel a little heavy-handed, as if she's trying too hard to clarify, yet may be necessary to bring to light the importance of other subtexts going on in the narrative. Nestled in the text are mouthwatering recipes that you just want to try making if you could bear to draw yourself away from the story. And the food metaphors. So much food. Everywhere.
Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune is a book of love. Love, food, and family--including the neighbours and community that become your family in strange and distant shores.
Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Berkley, Penguin Publishing Group via Edelweiss. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
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