Rated of 5
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.