I just finished Kitchen Chinese (Avon, 2010), Ann Mah’s debut novel and boy am I hungry. My husband bought fixings for Moroccan chicken tonight, so at least we’re spicing things up. (We did have Chinese last night!)
The thing I loved about Kitchen Chinese was that it went beyond food. The subtitle reads “A Novel about Food, Family and Finding Yourself”, but I didn’t feel like the food took away from the plot, as has been the case in the last few books I’ve read about China and food. I love Chinese food and all, but nothing keeps my attention more than a juicy story. (Another great food book about China is Linda Furiya’s How to Cook a Dragon (Seal Press, 2008), her second memoir.)
Reading Kitchen Chinese brought me to a new Beijing, a world away from the city I knew in 1988 and 1991, my only two visits to the Chinese capital. Back then, Beijing seemed more like Pyongyang on a good day, but now it ranks among the hippest international cities. Mah’s characters are life-like and bring me back to my days in Hong Kong and to my expat friends–people, like myself, who left the predictable in search of adventure in a land so different from home.
I was particularly interested in reading Mah’s novel because her mother’s book, Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter by Adeline Yen Mah (Penguin, 1997), is one of my favorites and gave me inspiration to leave my bad marriage ten years ago. Ann Mah, in her own book, proves she’s successfully followed in her mother’s footsteps as a captivating storyteller.