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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 19 reader reviews for Sweet Mandarin
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Louise J (07/30/12)

Beautiful Memoir
This family suffered tragedy after tragedy but managed to pick themselves up and keep moving forward in spite of the most horrible conditions and abject poverty. The strength of these Chinese women is astounding and a tribute to the culture they were born in to.

This story was so enjoyable and so interesting that I read it one sitting. Helen Tse’s writing flowed well and made for a very pleasant experience. I look forward to reading more of this author’s work. Sweet Mandarin is her debut novel.
Dorothy (06/15/08)

Sweeet Mandarin
The writing is excellent. I have read a great deal about China.
Monica (06/12/08)

Loved it! Loved it! Loved it!
How much did I love this memoir? A celebration of mothers and daughters and food, glorious food! I read slowly, savoring the words, not wanting to run out, knowing what would happen then. "And then what happened?" I wanted more. I wanted to visit Sweet Mandarin, and barring that, I wanted those recipes! I adored this memoir, these remarkable women and their journey of strength and wisdom. Certain passages, especially at the end, are so special, they give me goosebumps. When at last I'd reached The End, I closed the book feeling so proud of these women I'd come to know and love. And so inspired.
Vicki (06/09/08)

An engaging family history
Helen Tse's "Sweet Mandarin" succeeds most when she is telling the story of her maternal great-grandfather, an enterprising soy sauce producer and entrepreneur in rural China, and his daughter, Lily, Tse's grandmother, who overcame poverty and worked her way up from a servant and nanny in early Hong Kong to a respected restaurateur in Middleton, England. Tse also includes the story of her parents, who also owned and ran several Chinese restaurants, and a little about how she and her two sisters opened their own Chinese restaurant, called Sweet Mandarin. Mostly, though, this is the engaging story of and tribute to Lily Kwok--a strong and confident woman who made a living and supported her children despite rough times, an unreliable husband, and some hard choices.

This book would appeal to both young-adult and adult readers, and would make for interesting book club discussions. Readers learn what life was like in rural China and early Hong Kong, and also a bit about the Chinese immigrant experience in England in the 1950's. A recommended read.
Nancy (Nashville TN) (06/08/08)

Knowing that the people, places and events portrayed in this book are real helped to make reading it even more enjoyable. Helen Tse brings the reader into her life and the lives of her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother through the places, events and Chinese traditions and culture that influenced them. Each woman experienced hardships and made sacrifices because of them. These things only seemed to make them stronger. The heritage that Helen and her sisters received from each of these women is brought out in their own ambitions and perseverance; and they, in turn, will pass it on to their children.

The husbands and fathers of each of these women were also important. A male child is honored in Chinese families because they are the link to carrying on the family name and become the support for the older members of the family. As fathers, these men valued their daughters and gave worth to their lives.

I think that it would be a real treat to travel to England and eat in the Sweet Mandarin restaurant and taste the dishes made from the recipes that have survived through generations. I would highly recommend reading this book for history, culture and pure enjoyment.
Trish (06/02/08)

Sweet Mandarin
I enjoyed reading Sweet Mandarin but would not add it to my list of favorite books to recommend. The story was somewhat predictable. Lily was an interesting character and I admired the strength that she and her family showed against great obstacles.
Nona (05/28/08)

Helen Tse, Sweet Mandarin
“I was taught a great deal of what it is to be a Chinese woman in the kitchen at my mother’s and grandmother’s sides. Cooking is at the heart of the Chinese family and for a Chinese woman it is at the very core of her identity.”

Helen Tse’s Sweet Mandarin tells the story of four generations of women in her family, though the great majority of the book concentrates on the life story of her grandmother Lily Kwok, the first to emigrate from Hong Kong to Manchester, UK where she opened the first of a series of restaurants owned by family members. The origins of the book and much of its content derive from family stories and rumors; one senses an unwillingness on the part of the author to delve into hard times or into topics that her family is shy to speak of (her grandmother, for example, is reluctant to speak of WWII; the narrative implies that she and her Dutch employers essentially collaborated with the Japanese in order to survive). This sensitivity (the people she writes about are mostly still alive) leads to a certain flatness and sense of incompleteness in the narrative. Curiously, this simplicity and detachment is even reflected when Tse speaks of what she has personally experienced—compare, for example, her description of experiencing Hong Kong for the first time with that of Martin Booth in Golden Boy: Memories of a Hong Kong Childhood. There is also a desire to view situations positively, though there is clearly ambivalence: one example is her father’s dedication to building his business and the consequent distance from his children while they were growing up; or her mother Mabel’s feeling that she (Mabel) had no childhood because of her responsibilities in Lily’s restaurant, a feeling echoed briefly by Helen about her own youth and then excused. This is an interesting story, made more so if the reader is in a position to compare it to other Asian American or Asian British memoirs, but in the end one comes away from the book feeling that one has only gained a surface knowledge of any of these individuals.
Wendy (05/22/08)

Sweet Mandarin
This book is a great journey through China and beyond and tells the story of three generations of a Chinese family. The golden thread which weaves the generations together is food. We hear about soy sauce, Lily’s chicken curry, Mabel’s claypot chicken, among other dishes. The aromas and flavors of these meals come to life as we watch the triumphs and tragedies of this family. One of the early chapters begins with a Chinese saying: “A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every one makes a mark.” We see this time and again as each family member pens their mark on another. These women are raised to be strong and independent amid difficult times of loss. They always seem to make it through with a new sense of hope. It’s an enjoyable read!
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