Title: Kitchen Chinese: A Novel About Food, Family, and Finding Yourself
Author: Ann Mah
Release Date: February 9, 2010
Publisher: Avon A
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Multicultural Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Isabelle Lee has just lost her job as a fact checker at a magazine in New York and has no idea what her next move is going to be. Desperate, she decides to move to Beijing and live with her sister while she figures things out, and is hopeful that she’ll be able to land another job in the magazine world – something that will be complicated by the fact that Isabelle barely knows Mandarin. Isabelle’s move to Beijing starts out as an escape, but ends up being the adventure of a lifetime in which she beings to understand herself and her complicated sister, Claire.
Kitchen Chinese is a terrific novel about one woman’s journey in order to find herself. Isabelle is very confused at the beginning of this book. She knows what she wants out of her life, but isn’t brave enough to go after it. Her low self confidence means that her career is going nowhere and she’s in a dead-end relationship. Losing her job forces her to take a drastic step, pushing her out of her comfort zone.
Isabelle and Claire’s relationship is very interesting. Six years apart, they’ve never been close. Since Claire’s move to Beijing, they’ve barely spoken. Still, Claire opens her home to Isabelle when she asks to come stay. But when Isabelle arrives and sees her sister, she realizes how little she knows her. Their nonexistent relationship evolves beautifully over the course of the novel, as they begin to trust and confide in one another.
The cultural elements of Kitchen Chinese are absolutely wonderful. The mouth-watering description of Chinese food is enough to make you want to call your local Chinese restaurant and order take-out, though sadly it won’t compare to the amazing things that Isabelle gets to eat. The juxtaposition of American and Chinese culture in this novel is really interesting – Isabelle is American, though she looks Chinese on the outside. People in China don’t understand that she can have a Chinese heritage but still consider herself American.
Kitchen Chinese was a charming novel that I highly recommend, whether you’re interested in Chinese culture or wonderful women’s fiction novels. This is one of those books that will keep you hooked from beginning to end. I simply can’t wait to see what Ann Mah does next!