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11 May, 2018

Picture Us in the Light and Mambo in Chinatown

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Picture Us in the Light and Mambo in Chinatown Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert
on April 10th 2018
Pages: 361
Genres: Fiction
Published by Disney-Hyperion
Source: Library
Setting: California

Danny Cheng has always known his parents have secrets. But when he discovers a taped-up box in his father's closet filled with old letters and a file on a powerful Silicon Valley family, he realizes there's much more to his family's past than he ever imagined.
Danny has been an artist for as long as he can remember and it seems his path is set, with a scholarship to RISD and his family's blessing to pursue the career he's always dreamed of. Still, contemplating a future without his best friend, Harry Wong, by his side makes Danny feel a panic he can barely put into words. Harry and Danny's lives are deeply intertwined and as they approach the one-year anniversary of a tragedy that shook their friend group to its core, Danny can't stop asking himself if Harry is truly in love with his girlfriend, Regina Chan.
When Danny digs deeper into his parents' past, he uncovers a secret that disturbs the foundations of his family history and the carefully constructed facade his parents have maintained begins to crumble. With everything he loves in danger of being stripped away, Danny must face the ghosts of the past in order to build a future that belongs to him.

Goodreads

I’ve heard a lot of hype for Picture Us in the Light but I didn’t really know what it was about.  That’s the point, I suppose.  This is a book about mysteries.

For me the main mystery in Danny’s family’s past was obvious from the first few pages of discussion of it.  That contributed to my frustration with this book.  It is hard to listen to people go on and on about how strange it all is and how they can’t figure it out when you, the reader, is sitting there thinking, “Dude, it’s obvious.”

There is another story line about a friend of Danny’s who died of suicide a year before.  There is a lot of good writing about how the different characters deal with survivor’s guilt and their feelings about whether their last interactions with her may have added to her decision to kill herself.

I admit that I was not that interested in this book while I was reading it.  But I had been in a bit of a reading slump where I was only interested in romance and nonfiction.  I was determined to finish something that didn’t fit into those categories.  People like this book.  I was going to finish this book even if I wasted away from boredom in the process.

Then I got to the ending.  I love an unexpected ending.  They make me want to stand up and cheer.  It perked me up and made me pay close attention again.  I loved it.  It made me glad I read the book for the last two chapters.

I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially who don’t tend to get bored to tears reading about teenagers and their angst, just for the ending.



		
		Picture Us in the Light and Mambo in Chinatown
			
			
		
	Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok 
on June 24th 2014
Pages: 384
Published by Riverhead Books
Setting: New York

Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Wong grew up in New York’s Chinatown, the older daughter of a Beijing ballerina and a noodle maker. Though an ABC (America-born Chinese), Charlie’s entire world has been limited to this small area. Now grown, she lives in the same tiny apartment with her widower father and her eleven-year-old sister, and works—miserably—as a dishwasher.
But when she lands a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio, Charlie gains access to a world she hardly knew existed, and everything she once took to be certain turns upside down. Gradually, at the dance studio, awkward Charlie’s natural talents begin to emerge. With them, her perspective, expectations, and sense of self are transformed—something she must take great pains to hide from her father and his suspicion of all things Western. As Charlie blossoms, though, her sister becomes chronically ill. As Pa insists on treating his ailing child exclusively with Eastern practices to no avail, Charlie is forced to try to reconcile her two selves and her two worlds—Eastern and Western, old world and new—to rescue her little sister without sacrificing her newfound confidence and identity.

Goodreads

I’ve had this book on my TBR for a long time. Once I realized that I was going to do AsianLitBingo, I downloaded the ebook from the library.

I loved the main character of this book.  She’s always been told that she isn’t special enough to do anything.  She struggled in school and works as a dishwasher.  She wears hand me down clothes from the old ladies in her neighborhood.  The only skill she has is tai chi.  Her mother was a ballerina in China and she started Charlie in tai chi as a child.  But she doesn’t think of this as a talent.  She just thinks that she was bound to have picked up some skills since she’s been doing it for twenty years.

Her father and uncle tightly control her life.  So when she gets a job as a receptionist at a dance studio outside Chinatown, she keeps it secret.  She wants the extra money to help put her little sister into a private school.

At the school she is thrust into a world where people pay hundreds of dollars a week for dance lessons.  This isn’t a world that she knows.  Her coworkers take her on as a project to find the real person beneath the hand me down clothes and deferential manner.

This book is about branching out beyond what you’ve always been told your limits are.  How far do you go without losing parts of yourself?

08 Feb, 2017

On The Noodle Road

/ posted in: Reading On The Noodle Road On the Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome, with Love and Pasta by Jen Lin-Liu
on July 25th 2013
Pages: 388
Genres: Cooking, Nonfiction
Published by Riverhead Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: China, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kzyrgystan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Italy

Feasting her way through an Italian honeymoon, Jen Lin-Liu was struck by culinary echoes of the delicacies she ate and cooked back in China, where she’d lived for more than a decade. Who really invented the noodle? she wondered, like many before her. But also: How had food and culture moved along the Silk Road, the ancient trade route linking Asia to Europe—and what could still be felt of those long-ago migrations?
The journey takes Lin-Liu into the private kitchens where the headscarves come off and women not only knead and simmer but also confess and confide. The thin rounds of dough stuffed with meat that are dumplings in Beijing evolve into manti in Turkey—their tiny size the measure of a bride’s worth—and end as tortellini in Italy. And as she stirs and samples, listening to the women talk about their lives and longings, Lin-Liu gains a new appreciation of her own marriage, learning to savor the sweetness of love freely chosen.

Goodreads

A travel book about noodles?  I had to read this book as soon as I heard of it.  Add in the fact that in 2017 I’m trying to read more Asian authors and books set in Central Asia and this book was perfect for me.  It took me forever to read it though.  I think I found this book so soothing that I would fall asleep after a few pages.  It wasn’t boring.  It just relaxed me.

The author is a Chinese-American journalist who lives in Beijing with her white American husband.  She owns a cooking school.  While most people in the west think of rice when they think of staple dishes of China, noodles are more common in the cuisine of northern China.  She decides to follow the path of the Silk Road to see how noodles spread between China and Italy.  Who invented them?

First of all, the old story about Marco Polo discovering noodles in Asia and bringing them to Italy is not true.  The true history of noodles turns out to be very difficult to figure out.  The author travels from China through central Asia and into Iran and Turkey interviewing chefs and home cooks.  She is taught to cook dishes that amaze her and dishes that she learns to dread like plov, a central Asian rice dish that she was fed at every meal.  I thought plov sounded really good if you left out all the dead animal parts that she kept being served.  For a book that was supposed to be about noodles, it was very heavy on the meat.  She had sheep killed in her honor and a lot of time was spent sourcing and waxing poetic over pork in Muslim countries.

There is also a lot of discussion about relationships and the role of women in society.  At the time she started this trip, the author was recently married and was considering whether or not to have children.  She is very conflicted about what her role should be in her marriage.  Both she and her husband travel for work.  Can they keep doing that?  Should they stay in China?  Does being married automatically mean giving up her independence?  She spends part of the trip traveling alone and part of it with her husband.  She talks to women as they cook about what their relationships are like. She realizes that her love of homemade noodles means that someone has to spend all that time making them. Younger women with jobs outside the house tend not to learn those skills.

I-was-beginning-to

This book does have many recipes if you would like to try making different types of noodles and dishes featuring noodles. It even has recipes for plov. It won’t give you the answer though to where the noodle originated. That answer is lost in time.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Asia
  • Foodies Read 2017
  • POC authors

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