St. Martin’s Press|October 13, 2009|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-0-312-60481-3
Spanning almost a hundred years, this rich and evocative memoir recounts the lives of three generations of remarkable Chinese women. Their extraordinary journey takes us from the brutal poverty of village life in mainland China, to newly prosperous 1930 Hong Kong and finally to the UK. Their lives were as dramatic as the times they lived through.
A love of food and a talent for cooking pulled each generation through the most devastating of upheavals. Helen Tse’s grandmother, Lily Kwok, was forced to work as an “amah” after the violent murder of her father. Crossing the ocean from Hong Kong in the 1950’s, Lily honed her famous chicken curry recipe. Eventually she opened one of Manchester’s earliest Chinese restaurants where her daughter, Mabel, worked from the tender age of nine. But gambling and the Triads were pervasive in the Chinese immigrant community, and tragically they lost the restaurant. It was up to author Helen and her sisters, the third generation of these exceptional women, to re-establish their grandmothers dream. The legacy lived on when the sisters opened their award-winning restaurant Sweet Mandarin in 2004.
“Sweet Mandarin” shows how the most important inheritance is wisdom, and how recipes – passed down from the female line – can be the most valuable heirloom.
This family suffered tragedy after tragedy but managed to pick themselves up and keep moving forward in spite of the most horrible conditions and abject poverty. The strength of these Chinese women is astounding and a tribute to the culture they were born in to.
Lily, the matriarch of the family was a strong, stubborn and courageous woman who taught her children the value of hard work and making a dollar in spite of the long hard hours that had to be put in to make the minimum amount of money. Lily never gave up and after tragedy she picked herself up and kept moving forward. This ability to forge ahead in times of trouble and utter chaos was handed down to the next generation and the next, making for 3 generations of women whose courage, strength, fortitude, and resilience won out in the end.
This story was so enjoyable and so interesting that I read it one sitting. Helen Tse’s writing flowed well and made for a very pleasant experience. I look forward to reading more of this author’s work. Sweet Mandarin is her debut novel.