Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune
by Roselle Lim
Publisher: Penguin Random House | Imprint: Berkley
Formats available: Paperback, Electronic, Audio
Pub Date: 6.11.19| 320 pages
REVIEWER: Sophia Rose
Book was provided by publisher. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.
Lush and visual, chock-full of delicious recipes, Roselle Lim’s magical debut novel is about food, heritage, and finding family in the most unexpected places.
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. https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/600462/natalie-tans-book-of-luck-and-fortune-by-roselle-lim/
The idea of exploring the world beyond the dragon gate of San Francisco’s Chinatown through a heartwarming story of loss, love, and a dying neighborhood’s hope seemed like just the thing. I read this book knowing it was a debut novel and shook my head with surprise because it felt rich in background, setting, situation, and characters in a way that one doesn’t normally experience in a first book.
Natalie has been kicking about around the world for the last seven years carrying around hurt pride that she failed culinary school and never had her mother’s approval to be a chef and have her own restaurant, bitterness over the abandonment of her father before she was even born and leaving her to look after a mother with agoraphobia. But, the call comes from back in her old San Francisco Chinatown neighborhood that tells her that she waited too long to resolve the gulf between her and her mother. Those words spoken in anger will remain her last to her dead mother.
Natalie arrives home to find a dying neighborhood of shops, people who claim to have been her mother’s friends and wish to grieve with her and the legacy of her grandmother’s restaurant below the apartment she shared with her mother. A fortunetelling reveals that she must help the neighbors for her dream of reopening her grandmother’s restaurant to be successful. Natalie’s great at running when life gets tough and now she has come full circle and must stick to it for once.
The set up for this one grabbed my emotions from the outset. Natalie is at a low point when the book begins and now she must face her old home where memories of her life with her mother and their family break up occurred, her childhood resentment when she thought neighbors left them on their own, her fear that she’s not good enough to open her courageous grandmother’s restaurant and serve her dishes, and that her issues with her father’s abandonment clouding her ability to stay with a relationship long.
The book seems to flow along at a gentle pace with daily events and a seemingly easy time for Natalie to go about restoring and righting things. Of course, she hit a snag and it tore through all the good track she had laid down and that was when it got interesting. A little mystery and drama entered the picture and shook things up a bit.
I appreciated how the author handled Miranda’s agoraphobia and how Natalie perceived her mother’s illness. I like seeing characters who struggle with such disorders and illness portrayed with complexity and not just labeled by their illness.
There was magic in the recipes and magic in how the neighborhood’s good fortune was directly tied to the state of her grandmother’s restaurant. There is also a mystery in how to make it all work out because something is missing and Natalie has to find out what even while she is engaging in a sweet side romance.
This one is definitely for lovers of culture, close-knit friends and family, and food- yes the food. Recipes are sprinkled throughout this book and I was left salivating as the descriptions of cooking and results were written so well.
The writing style was both lavish on description and a feast for the senses in beautiful prose without losing an easy comfortable feeling.
All in all, it was a lovely uplifting story of restoration, a bit of magic and the work it takes to feed good relationships and dreams. I can definitely recommend this one for those looking for a great summer read.