Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune. Roselle Lim. Penguin Publishing Group. June 2019. pb, 320 pp.; ISBN: 9781984803252.
Natalie Tan returns home to Chinatown in San Francisco after the death of her mother or Ma-ma. Her Mom was agoraphobic, never leaving her home until the day she died. Her grandmother or Laolao was famous for the Chinese restaurant she successfully ran in Chinatown, cooking authentic Chinese dishes that fellow neighbors, families and visitors relished and which they sorely miss. But the neighborhood is now in a crisis and in danger of disappearing with each bankruptcy or sale that occurs! Natalie, however, has a rich and audacious dream, an achievable goal albeit fraught with immense challenges!
On opening the restaurant doors, Natalie is struck by the deteriorated condition of the statue of Guanyin, the goddess of mercy and compassion. Her response? “A revered goddess shouldn’t be treated this way.” It’s clear that Natalie is rejecting her mother’s avid belief in ghosts and demons. At the same time, a Chinese realtor is banging on the door, intensely and immediately trying to get Natalie to sell the restaurant. Natalie is made of tougher stuff, although she certainly doesn’t realize it yet.
Great food with beautiful music makes for a phenomenal combination that makes people, especially Chinese people, happy and successful. A neighbor gives Natalie a book of Laolao’s recipes – not just any book of recipes but dishes that if cooked just right will bring healing and happiness to the person eating this blessed dish, whether it be of savory dumplings, scallion pancakes, succulent dishes with oysters and so much more. Natalie also finds a picture of her grandmother and is told a prophecy that Natalie will do the same thing.
This is the outrageous and oh so beautiful plot of this simple yet profound story, and Natalie sets about making it happen. For those who are adventurous, the novel also holds recipes of the best of the dishes Natalie prepares.
And to add to the sparkling excitement of this venture is a romantic element for which Natalie is now ready.
Some might say this is a simplistic story but the ideas behind the preparation of exotic and exquisite dishes, as well as familiar selections, is something desperately needed in these fraught and constantly challenging times. Roselle Lim gets my vote of confidence for a lovely story that will capture the interest – and appetite – of many, many readers. Oh, and would love, love, love to see more about Natalie in the future! Happy Reading and Eating because you will be hungry during this memorable read!