Warning: Avoid reading while hungry.

THE LAST CHINESE CHEF

American food writer has a dual assignment in Beijing: cover a chef competition and deal with a paternity claim against her late husband.

Maggie, 40, lives on a boat in L.A., adjusting to widowhood after her world-traveling lawyer husband Matt is hit by an errant motorist in San Francisco. She writes a peripatetic column about culinary Americana, but now Matt’s former colleague Carey has summoned her to Beijing: Grandparents are claiming Matt fathered their five-year-old granddaughter Shuying, and litigation looms under the (fictitious, alas) Children’s Rights Treaty. (Matt did have a brief fling with Shuying’s mother, Gao Lan, whom he met in a Beijing club.) Maggie’s editor assigns her to profile a Beijing-based Eurasian chef named Sam, scion of the illustrious Laing clan. Sam’s grandsire Liang Wei wrote The Last Chinese Chef, the definitive treatise on cuisine based on centuries-old dining traditions at the Forbidden City, where the Liangs wielded woks. Sam’s father Liang Yeh fled China for Ohio during the Cultural Revolution. Now Sam has returned to carry on the family tradition under the tutelage of elderly mentors Jiang, Tan and Xie. Sam’s Imperial-style ancestral restaurant lost financing, but he is a contender in an upcoming culinary Olympic trial. If he wins a coveted spot on the Chinese team, celebrity chefdom is guaranteed. When Maggie journeys to the south to take a DNA swab from Shuying, Sam tags along to visit dying Xie, who alone can impart sufficient refinement to Sam’s wok chops. Maggie learns that another man is most likely the father, but after meeting Gao Lan, now a kept woman whose parents think the money she sends home derives from a career in “Logistics,” she resolves to help her anyway. As Sam’s audition banquet approaches, Maggie is increasingly drawn to him. Mones (A Cup of Light, 2002, etc.) has a subtle touch when portraying growing affection between genuinely nice people. Meticulously researched gastronomy will entice foodies, even those whose familiarity with Chinese food is limited to takeout.

Warning: Avoid reading while hungry.

Pub Date: May 4, 2007

ISBN: 0-618-61966-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2007

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Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

THE WINTER GUEST

An 18-year-old Polish girl falls in love, swoons over a first kiss, dreams of marriage—and, oh yes, we are in the middle of the Holocaust.

Jenoff (The Ambassador’s Daughter, 2013, etc.) weaves a tale of fevered teenage love in a time of horrors in the early 1940s, as the Nazis invade Poland and herd Jews into ghettos and concentration camps. A prologue set in 2013, narrated by a resident of the Westchester Senior Center, provides an intriguing setup. A woman and a policeman visit the resident and ask if she came from a small Polish village. Their purpose is unclear until they mention bones recently found there: “And we think you might know something about them.” The book proceeds in the third person, told from the points of view mostly of teenage Helena, who comes upon an injured young Jewish-American soldier, and sometimes of her twin, Ruth, who is not as adventurous as Helena but is very competitive with her. Their father is dead, their mother is dying in a hospital, and they are raising their three younger siblings amid danger and hardship. The romance between Helena and Sam, the soldier, is often conveyed in overheated language that doesn’t sit well with the era’s tragic events: “There had been an intensity to his embrace that said he was barely able to contain himself, that he also wanted more.” Jenoff, clearly on the side of tolerance, slips in a simplified historical framework for the uninformed. But she also feeds stereotypes, having Helena note that Sam has “a slight arch to his nose” and a dark complexion that “would make him suspect as a Jew immediately.” Clichés also pop up during the increasingly complex plot: “But even if they stood in place, the world around them would not.”

Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1596-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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