The waiters were singing “Happy Birthday” in Chinese.
One main disappointment about this story: not enough descriptions of food. In some ways, this one felt like an international version of De zoetzure smaak van dromen; also the (immigrant) family in and around a Chinese restaurant. Except this one has a lot more infighting and drama. And as I said before – less descriptions of food.
So, what does happen in this novel? No-one seems to be very happy with their place in society. All are connected to a Chinese restaurant, but some (feel like it’s) in the wrong way, and some want to cut all ties. There’s the son of the owner, employees that have been there for decades, and those at the fringes of their lives. A fire doesn’t make things easier, even though it was slightly expected to.
It’s not the most accessible of novels; there are very few people to like and sometimes side plot lines take a bit too much space. On the other hand: it’s mostly the male characters that are the annoying ones, and all of it shows humanity. With a title and subject like this, it could have easily become a collection of stereotypes about Asian Americans: instead you’re shown that family and finances issues work the same in every (sub)culture.
Number One Chinese Restaurant, Lilian Li, Macmillan Publishing 2018
I watched from the window as the boys tumbled out of the brick schoolhouse across the field from us.
This story sometimes feels a bit too much like those introductions to subjects in school books, but is enticing enough to not be bothered by that.
It’s a short story as well: I checked twice if I didn’t happen to download just the first book, or even an incomplete version (I’m so sorry library, it’s me that has the mistrust, not you that deserve it). In 166 pages Amal’s story is told.
She is a young teenager that lives in a small Pakistani village and dreams of becoming a teacher. Her entire life is turned upside down when she says no to a (blackmailing) landlord, moving her from future potential teacher to indentured servant.
This story is inspired by Malala Yousafzai, and as mentioned before, sometimes it shows. Through hardship this young girl learns things and acquires a new view of the world. For that second part (unless you come from a small Pakistani village as well), you should have a look at the novella.
Amal Unbound, Aisha Saeed, Penguin Books 2018
My mother Li Min’s labor pains began the night that the widow was beaten in front of the Tian-ma Teahouse.
I’m a sucker for family epics, “spanning decades”. Honestly, you can just get my attention with those two words. Add a not-western background (because honestly, aren’t we familiar enough already with those?) and I’m in. So that’s how I ended up with Green Island.
You follow the main character from birth to seniority, over two continents and through so much political unrest that it’s sometimes boggling to realise that these are real life events. How much do you know about the history of Taiwan, after all?
Shawna Yang Ryan leads you through the casual horrors different governments exercise while juxtaposing it with (immigrant) domestic life, making some chapters almost surrealistic. The narrator is always chafing in her surroundings, sometimes making her annoying, but the story continuously enticing.
Green Island, Shawna Yang Ryan, Alfred A. Knopf, 2016
So much fun, so sparkly, so cute, so many beautiful people. What do you mean, you’re going to need more than that to go watch it? Or go read it? The Crazy Rich trilogy got a movie, and most of the first book has been used for this movie.
Anyway, this is a romantic comedy about a woman who discovers that her boyfriend is just about a couple of million times richer than she knew. And she discovers this because he invites her over to his family home.
This story line is literally and figuratively brightened up with a lot of beautiful mansions, houses, cars, outfits and colourful side characters. The majority of the cast is lovely to look at as well.
Is any of it groundbreaking? Possibly how the complete cast has an Asian background, but this movie will satisfy your romcom-need all the same. And if you can’t wait for the sequel: there’s the books.
Crazy Rich Asians, Warner Brothers 2018
History has failed us, but no matter.
Yes, a much better start for the new reading year than Acceptance. Much better than any recent books, and it’s January 24th. Anyway, Pachinko was lauded and I’m glad it didn’t disappoint me.
It’s a family epic of a Korean family, starting in 1910. Generation after generation takes you past living in poverty, living in a colonised country, war, prosperity and loss. There’s born family and created family and all the other connections that happen in society.
Sounds terribly vague? Simply because this is a book you should allow to overwhelm you, instead of going in with any expectations. “Meh”, you think, “a soap opera spread through time”, but that’s an insult. Pachinko is history, humanity, entertainment and mind boggling (the things I didn’t know as a white woman). Oh, and the descriptions of food might make you drool a little.
Pachinko is nominated for the American award ‘National Book Award for Fiction’. It has my vote.
Pachinko, Min Jin Lee, Hachette Book Group 2017
PROBLEM NO. 1
Your regular table at the fabulous restaurant on the exclusive island where you own a beach house is unavailable.
Follow up from Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend, now with even some issues that everyone that isn’t a billionaire or millionaire could relate to. Maybe.
Does one read books of these series for recognising situations from their own lives? Probably not. Bring in the details about the clothes, the planes, the houses, the spending.
Again, there’s so many characters that the genealogy in front of the book can be helpful. The author ramps up the amount of notes as well, this time using them (more often) to comment, instead of to explain. But in between all of that is a brightly coloured, very expensive (looking) story full of dramatics and diamonds. It’s silly, it’s superficial, it’s quite delicious (especially in between Year of Wonders and writing essays about The Catcher in the Rye).
Rich People Problems, Kevin Kwan, Doubleday 2017
Sometimes the best love stories are the ones involving friendship and self esteem. Although you could just call this a cute coming-of-age story as well and don’t worry about in your face Life Lessons and soppy scenes.
Main character Lily always wins, no matter what the battle is. She has her entire life planned out, but of course life – being what it is – doesn’t go with that. Her boyfriend breaks off with her, because of a pageant miss! One of those dumb, shallow creatures (it takes her some time to realise her misogynistic ideas)!
Of course this means that Lily is going to have to win a pageant to win her boyfriend back. Even though she knows it’s a superficial mess, pulls her best friend away from what she wants (to participate), and just doesn’t know yet that you can’t ‘win’ people.
Boyfriend is just the katalysator for things here anyway, and nary a man is found after the first few scenes. They’re all weaker than Lily and her friends and competition, whom are learning about their culture, their place in it and that there are lines you don’t cross to win.
That’s how we get Lily recognising that you can’t keep an iron clad grip on everything-/one, and that life is nicer with people around than medals.
Miss India America, Simhan and Kapoor 2015