An intimate, unhistorical, uneven synthesis of the stories of three generations of Chinese wives, mothers and daughters.
The author, a Chinese-British financial lawyer who now runs a restaurant called Sweet Mandarin with her two sisters in Manchester, England, begins her affectionate, family narrative with the hardscrabble story of her grandmother Lily, born to an entrepreneur and his wife in Guangzhou who only wanted sons but got six daughters instead. Despite a growing business making and selling soy sauce, which took them to Hong Kong in 1925, the family’s fortunes turned sour when Lily’s father was murdered in his Guangzhou factory by a jealous local gang. Due to the nation’s patrilinear traditions, his widow and daughters were essentially turned out of their home. Lily’s job as a maid/nanny to the wealthy British Woodmans in Hong Kong eventually brought her to England in the early 1950s. By then estranged from a philandering gambler of a husband, she saved up to bring her children to England and was able to start a Chinese takeout restaurant in Manchester with the money Mrs. Woodman left Lily in her will. Lily’s daughter, Mabel, was brought up working in the business and in the late ’70s started her own “corner chippy” in Middleton; the author and her siblings toiled there during their growing-up years. Although she belonged to one of the first Chinese families in Middleton, Tse did not feel herself a victim of racism and became thoroughly assimilated into British life. She offers interesting takes on her family’s gambling, gang culture in Hong Kong and the stunning misogyny still rampant in Chinese society.
An easy-flowing tale that subsumes historical changes in personal histories, especially the plight of the author’s grandmother.