Book Review: Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune

Yin-yang fried rice was a feast for the eyes and the senses. Swirls of cream contrasted with an orange tomato sauce to form the iconic pattern. Underneath the sauces lay a bed of yang chow fried rice containing a bounty of minced jewels: barbecued pork, Chinese sausage, peas, carrots, spring onions, and wisps of egg. Slices of white onions and pork emerged from the tomato sauce while shrimp and sweet green peas decorated the cream.

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 neighbourhood 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 neighbourhood seer reads the restaurant’s fortune in the leaves: Natalie must cook three recipes from her grandmother’s cookbook to aid her struggling neighbours 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 neighbours really have been there for her all along.

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I don’t know quite where to start with this one except that it’s deliciously good.

Roselle Lim’s wonderful descriptions of the food cooked throughout the novel left me reaching for a snack. At times I could almost smell the meals wafting from the pages of the book.

Along with the food descriptions, the setting of San Fransisco’s Chinatown completely encased me. Lim has painted such a clear picture, it was hard not to feel like I’d travelled the great distance between my home in Ontario to northern California. I could fully imagine the neighbourhood where Natalie moved back to along with the delightful cast of characters.

Each one of the characters in the book felt so real and grounded in reality. From the intimidating and somewhat grumpy restaurant owner to the down-on-her-luck shop owner, I felt like I could just walk out the door and meet them on the street. And I’d want to. Despite some obvious conflicts, no character was completely unlikeable or unredeemable. It was so nice.

Right now the world is in a bit of chaos, and books like this are much needed. This book is like curling up inside a warm pork bun (wouldn’t that be amazing, though?). Though this is what I could call a “comfort book” and I knew everything would work out in the end, I still felt very much compelled to read on and on. I laughed and I cried in equal measure.

I won’t give anything away because you should do yourself a favour and read this book, but there’s a twist that took me by surprise. It was the happy little cherry on top of this delicious book sundae.

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