Advance reader reviews of Sweet Mandarin by Helen Tse.

Sweet Mandarin

The Courageous True Story of Three Generations of Chinese Women and Their Journey from East to West

By Helen Tse

Sweet Mandarin
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  • Published in USA  Jul 2008,
    288 pages.

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There are currently 18 member reviews
for Sweet Mandarin
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  • Patricia (Frankfort IL)


    A story of resilence and the power of the human spirit
    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It read like a novel but I had to keep reminding myself it was a true story. The book is mainly about Lily, the matriarch of three generations of women and her life in rural China, Hong Kong and later England. Sweet Mandarin refers to a restaurant started by Lily's granddaughters. Two thumbs up!
  • Jennifer (Tucson AZ)


    Interesting story but not enough details
    This story of 3 generations of Chinese women is interesting but I felt that it glossed over big pieces of history, such as WWII. Additionally, this is a story that revolves around food, and, unfortunately, there is very little, other than Lily's curry that is explored or expounded upon. I had high hopes for this book, but it was just average.
  • Kathryn (Oceanside CA)


    Delightful Read
    Sweet Mandarin, by Helen Tse is a delightful read about three generations of Chinese women that affirms the strength and resiliency of the feminine spirit. A memoir that seems more like a novel, takes the reader from Hong Kong to England and back. This true story keeps the pages turning! Unlike recent books about ancient Chinese heroines, these women live in the twentieth century. A lot of the old ways still exist but this family embraces the blending of cultures without losing the strength of their roots. Much of what is passed from one generation to the next, revolves around the love of food and cooking. I found it fascinating reading. It's a good book!
  • Lisa (Beacon Falls CT)


    Sweet Mandarin
    "Sweet Mandarin" flows from the tale told by Helen Tse's great-grandfather of the elderly gentleman who proclaims to the people of his village that he will level two mountains to build a road south to the Han River. Although no one believes him capable of this feat, he insists the job will be completed, if not only by himself, but by generations to come. Through five generations, his descendants accomplish the task. Such is the story of the courageous women of Tse's family.

    Tse's memoir is a tribute to the family matriarch and to the strength and passion of women. The central character of "Sweet Mandarin" is Lily, Tse's indomitable grandmother. Her tale takes the reader through the adversity of her early childhood in China, the prejudice she encounters during her youth in Hong Kong and finally to England. We meet Lily's stoic mother, Tai Po, who guides her family with love and courage. We meet Tse's own mother, Mabel, who rises from struggling to adjust to life in a new country to building a life of success through hard work. Finally, the Tse sisters themselves who achieve the dreams of their ancestors.

    Although the author expresses the common thread uniting each of these extraordinary women to be the love of food and cooking, this reader was looking for more. "Lily's Chicken Curry" and "Mabel's Claypot Chicken" deserve more of a story!

    "Sweet Mandarin" although not truly memorable, is a heartwarming, sweet memoir of how with love, hope, courage and determination, "mountains" can be moved.
  • Christine (Lilydale MN)


    Sweet Mandarin
    I enjoyed the story the Helen Tse tells but I had difficulty getting past her many rambling sentences that were almost as long as a paragraph. She also changes tenses a lot within paragraphs. I think the book could garner some interesting discussions at a book club meeting so for that it might be worth reading.
  • Mary (River Forest, IL) (River Forest IL)


    A slow stroll through an interesting story
    I just took a look at other First Impression reviews, and was troubled by the 5-star ones. What had I missed? It was with some relief that I reached the 3 star review from Owensboro, KY. My reaction exactly! She couldn't figure out why, but I think I have - at least for myself. Tse's story is fascinating, Tse's writing is pedestrian - in the true sense of the word. While I read of these remarkable women, especially Tse's grandmother's story, I felt like I was plodding along leisurely, the constant meter of the words lulling me into a disinterest that I knew was betraying me. As it happens, my family roots are in Owensboro, KY - so maybe there's something in our genes? If you're looking for a worthwhile story for a summer day in a hammock, "Sweet Mandarin" would be a good choice - but don't be surprised if that tick-tock tap-tap of the pedestrian pace lulls you into an afternoon nap.
  • Liz (Kalamazoo MI)


    Family and Food
    Helen Tse has written a loving tribute to the women in her family in Sweet Mandarin. The greater part of the book tells her grandmother Lily’s story, and hers is a remarkable one. Beginning with her parent’s move to Hong Kong and her father’s death, Lily experiences both hardship and good fortune, and perseveres through it all.

    Sweet Mandarin is a well written, compelling story about family, courage, determination, and making the most out of life. Tse’s fine prose makes the story read like a novel. The book spans over 75 years of family history in less than 300 pages, so there were parts of the story I wish had been covered in more detail. But, given that this is a memoir and not a novel, I felt Tse did an excellent job of remaining true to her family’s story as it was remembered. I only wish I could enjoy a meal of Lily’s signature Chicken Curry! Readers of Amy Tan and Diana Abu-Jaber (The Language of Baklava) will enjoy this book.
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