Rated of 5
by Nona Helen Tse, Sweet Mandarin
I was taught a great deal of what it is to be a Chinese woman in the kitchen at my mothers and grandmothers 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 Tses 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 experiencedcompare, 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 fathers dedication to building his business and the consequent distance from his children while they were growing up; or her mother Mabels feeling that she (Mabel) had no childhood because of her responsibilities in Lilys 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.
Rated of 5
by Wendy 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, Lilys chicken curry, Mabels 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 childs 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. Its an enjoyable read!
Rated of 5
by Patricia 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!
Rated of 5
by Jennifer 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.
Rated of 5
by Kathryn 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!
Rated of 5
by Lisa 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.
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