Catherine (Aurora CO)
This is a memoir of the lives of the author's grandmother and mother and, to a lesser extent, the author herself. The story of what the grandmother went through pre-World War II and post-World War II in China and Hong Kong is amazing. The choices she had to make are heartbreaking. Parts of the book are like a history lesson but in a good way. The historical details are woven seamlessly into the narration. The author gives a very honest portrayal - the good and the bad, the strengths and the weaknesses - of her family. Would definitely recommend this book for book clubs.
Jane (Prospect KY)
Sweet Mandarin by Helen Tse
I was a little ambivalent about this book. On one hand it contained a good amount of interesting, historical information about Hong Kong as well as Chinese culture. On the other hand, it just never grabbed my heart .... and the worst thing is, I'm not sure why.
It was an intensely personal account of a family's struggle to keep their family together through financial hardship, particularly through the strength of the central figure, Lily, the author's grandmother.
I felt the author kept the reader at an arm's distance from the "meat" of the story. It could be that she herself was kept at that distance and that's the only way she could retell the story. I felt it would have been a much more memorable read if the author could have lost herself a little more in the actual action of the book and filled in a little bit more to make the book read more smoothly.
It definitely read like an author's first attempt at commercial writing. I don't think it will make any 'must read' list of 2008 but it was an interesting historical perspective on an immigrant family of that era.
Dorothy (Maynard MA)
To England from China by way of Hong Kong
I saw a quote once that said “Anyone who says you only have one life to live hasn’t learned to read.” Sweet Mandarin, a memoir by Helen Tse, shows just how far a book can take you into another life. Sweet Mandarin is the name of the restaurant Helen Tse and her two sisters opened in Manchester, England in 2004. It is one of a series of food related businesses her family owned, beginning with her grandfather’s soy sauce business and continuing through restaurants and take-aways owned by her grandmother and her parents. Her story following the importance of food to her family is billed as being about three generations of Chinese women. While it does talk about Helen’s life and that of her mother, this is really her grandmother Lily’s story. Born in a tiny primitive village in China to a family with no surviving sons and six daughters in a country where women have no status – legal or otherwise, Lily is determined not only to survive but to change and improve her life and the lives of her children. Demonstrating incredible courage and determination, she makes frighteningly difficult – sometimes heartbreaking - decisions to make sure that happens. The story of her life in China and in Hong Kong during the Japanese occupation during WWII is riveting. The cultural shock suffered when Lily comes to England brought to mind Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club. I found this an easy to read fascinating look at a very different and very difficult life.
Nancy (Denver NC)
Readable History of China
The characters in this book illustrate in a completely readable fashion the history of China. Each generation of these amazing women has its own happiness and tragedy. Their lives made me appreciate what we as Americans take for granted every day. They were poor beyond imagining, but their faith and their courage unshakable. You don't have to be familiar with Chinese food to realize what it signified and how it brought the women together, but at the end you will be.
This is a highly readable book - you will have a hard time putting it down.