Title: Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune
Author: Roselle Lim
Publication Date: June 11, 2019
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
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ARC provided by the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest opinion.
Warm and touching, Roselle Tan’s debut touches on loss, family, culture, self-discovery and the healing power of food.
At the news of her mother’s death, Natalie Tan returns home. The two women hadn’t spoken since Natalie left in anger seven years ago, when her mother refused to support her chosen career as a chef. Natalie is shocked to discover the vibrant neighborhood of San Francisco’s Chinatown that she remembers from her childhood is fading, with businesses failing and families moving out. She’s even more surprised to learn she has inherited her grandmother’s restaurant.
The neighborhood seer reads the restaurant’s fortune in the leaves: Natalie must cook three recipes from her grandmother’s cookbook to aid her struggling neighbors before the restaurant will succeed. Unfortunately, Natalie has no desire to help them try to turn things around – she resents the local shopkeepers for leaving her alone to take care of her agoraphobic mother when she was growing up. But with the support of a surprising new friend and a budding romance, Natalie starts to realize that maybe her neighbors really have been there for her all along.
There are those rare books that leave you feeling light and full all the same time. Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune is one of those books.
Deliciously magical and vibrant, Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune was a treat to read. Roselle Tan weaved together a charming story that centers on family, community, and self-discovery using food a mediator – a bridge – between characters, bringing them together.
Loss – the dealing and accepting of it- is another theme central to this book. Having lost her mother right before the start of the story, Natalie had to deal with anger, loss, and grief. She hasn’t seen nor spoken to her mother in the whole seven years she was gone from their home in San Francisco, and the suddenness of her death understandably brought out some hidden resentments and, of course, regrets. It was heartwarming how Tan handled this part of her story, depicting with great care and love the nuances, values, and rituals of an Asian family.
Though Natalie carries the task of moving the story, the secondary characters added more color into the narrative. They are the community Natalie re-discovers and gains amidst her loss, and each one of them has their own thread in the story. Celia and Old Wu are the most memorable of these characters for me, and they were quite contrasting. Celia is such an open person, friendly and bright and vivacious. She takes in Natalie immediately, welcoming her into the fold and guiding her and re-introducing her to their old neighborhood. Old Wu, meanwhile, is a traditionalist. I’ll admit that I didn’t like him at first. He was too harsh Natalie and I felt that he judged her without even trying to get to know her. As the story went on and I got to know his connection with Natalie’s laolao, I understood where he was coming from. I thoroughly enjoyed reading parts where these two supporting characters appear and the difference between them only made them all the more fun to get to know.
While I loved most of this book, there were still a few things I thought could have been done better. The story meandered at times, spending too much time dwelling on one moment instead of moving on. The connection between plot threads also felt spotty at some points in the story, but perhaps the biggest issue I had was the romance. It was unnecessary and it felt like it was added as an afterthought. The story could have stood on its own without it. Daniel didn’t add much into it anyway, and I actually think Natalie talking about her ex-fiancé had more page-time than Daniel.
Overall, Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune was an incredibly delightful read. This is not YA but could easily be enjoyed by a younger audience. It was such a heartwarming and delightful story about family and community. All the food mentions in this book will certainly make you hungry so take it from me and have some snacks handy by your side before reading this.
P.S. I’ll definitely try my hand at all the recipes in this book even if I know I’m a Celia and no Natalie. You’ll get the joke when you read this book.
ROSELLE LIM was born in the Philippines and immigrated to Canada as a child. She lived in north Scarborough in a diverse, Asian neighborhood.
She found her love of writing by listening to her lola (paternal grandmother’s) stories about Filipino folktales. Growing up in a household where Chinese superstition mingled with Filipino Catholicism, she devoured books about mythology, which shaped the fantasies in her novels.
An artist by nature, she considers writing as “painting with words.”