Food writer Nicole Mones has spent 18 years traveling to China, so it's fair to say that when she writes about a food writer who spends two weeks in China, Mones is up to the task. Although the novel contains no actual recipes, it won a World Gourmand Award in the category of Chinese cookbook. Such is the extent to which Chinese food is the thread that holds this story together. Cutting a clear path through the forest of noodles is narrator Elisabeth Rodgers, giving voice to the metaphor that extends from cooking to loving with a refreshingly crisp negotiation of the Chinese language.
The food writer in the story is a widow on a mission to determine if her late husband fathered a child by some other woman during his work in China. Since she may as well do some work while waiting for the paternity test results, Maggie profiles Sam, a competitive cooking descendant of the famous chef who authored the canonical kitchen text The Last Chef. Each chapter begins with a short excerpt from this mythic cookbook that relates as much about Chinese sociology as it does about the value of pork fat, read by the always delightful James Chen, whose voice unfortunately pops up only in these opening bits.
Foodies will find a treasure trove of practical information on the unjustifiable undervaluing of Chinese cuisine, and all listeners will enjoy some extended lessons on the cultural traditions that can heal lonely hearts. Rodgers is terrifically funny as Sam's uptight uncles, as well as the enigmatic lawyer and translator who assist Maggie with her husband's estate. Mones has written her third paean to Chinese virtues, and whatever you may make of the legal drama or the love story, you will never look at a takeout menu the same way again. Megan Volpert
In her satisfying, sensual third novel, Nicole Mones takes readers inside the hidden world of elite cuisine in modern China through the story of an American food writer in Beijing. When recently widowed Maggie McElroy is called to China to settle a claim against her late husband's estate, she is blindsided by the discovery that he may have led a double life. Since work is all that will keep her sane, her magazine editor assigns her to profile Sam, a half-Chinese American who is the last in a line of gifted chefs tracing back to the imperial palace. As she watches Sam gear up for Chinas Olympic culinary competition by planning the banquet of a lifetime, she begins to see past the cuisines artistry to glimpse its coherent expression of Chinese civilization. It is here, amid lessons of tradition, obligation, and human connection that she finds the secret ingredient that may yet heal her heart.
©2008 Nicole Mones (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
"The novel is rich with meaning and lore and an examination of loving relationships. Don't even touch this book when you're hungry. The descriptions make the aromas and textures float right off the page." (Amazon.com review)
"Early in her visit, Maggie scoffs at the idea that 'food can heal the human heart.' Mones smartly proves her wrong." (Publishers Weekly)
"Elisabeth Rodgers delivers the novel with verve. James Chen narrates the chapter openings, which are quotes from a revered ancient tome on Chinese food preparation and philosophy. Cookery lore; subtle aromas and flavors; bold colors and textures all vie with story elements that focus on culture and family to keep listeners fully engaged." (AudioFile)
I am not one to wax eloquent over most books - but this is one of the exceptions. A great story - especially if you are a foodie and interested in China. Beautifully written - very engaging - as it moves between characters, time frames, and focus. The descriptions of cooking and eating are very fun. The narration is excellent. I highly recommend this book.
Do you read the book before you dislike my reviews?
I'm kind of surprised that I enjoyed "The Last Chinese Chef." I was expecting a love, romantic story and wasn't thrill to listen to it, but as I got more into the story, I liked it and couldn't wait for more. Instead of listening about a man and a woman falling for each other, I learned so much more about the Chinese culture and how their food is a staple of who they are. The book is written well. As you follow the characters, you start to understand the Asian culture more by respecting their food as if it was art. The cooking competition over shadows the romance between the two main characters.
I love a novel in which I learn about an interesting subject wrapped in a compelling story. The Last Chinese Chef does all that quite well. I was fascinated to learn about the importance of food in the Chinese culture and how differently the Chinese view the experience of eating than do westerners. Simultaneously, I couldn't wait to find out what was happening with Mones' well wrought two main characters as their parallel stories intertwined. Mones successfully brings together the experience of an American writer looking for closure re her husband's life and sudden death and the experience of a Chinese-American Chef competing in a national competition as a lead up to the Beijing Olympics. A fun and different novel.
The use of language! Mones use of verbs and descriptors made this food/mystery/romance palatable. Since listening to it we have been on a Chinese food cooking jag.
Beautifully read. One of the best readings we have heard! Lovely intonation, never over done or flat.
Yes, we laughed. It brought back many memories for my husband.
We have already shared our love of this novel with friends
Loved this book! Fine story and writing, and really neat descriptions of food and fascinating information on the Chinese philosophy about the properties of food and how the top chefs interested in the imperial style strive to complement and balance the perfect banquet.
If you want to listen to something soothing, refreshing and that will just make you feel warm and cozy, this is the one
So nice to read a simple romance with so much heart.
It was one of my favorites and I'll listen to it again. The quotes at the beginning of each chapter, from the "Last Chinese Chef" she is writing about are worth paying attention to. The cadence of the narrator never varied, for all circumstances, which distracted from the story a bit, but not much. If you love food, you'll love learning about the rich history and traditions of the Chinese. A wonderful book, easy to listen to, heartwarming and educational.
The intermingling of food, culture, tradition and family.
Alter her cadence.
Part history, part food love story, and part relationship - it was a fascinating voyage to a place I've never been before.
The food was my favorite character - the explanations and descriptions made it come alive and brought all the ancient principles to life.
It made me hungry - very hungry for Chinese food. The food I ordered had no resemblance to the masterpieces Sam made. I'm still hungry.
From the title I was afraid this would be a story stuck in-between recipes. Fortunately I didn't let that stop me. This was an absolutely terrific book. It not only provided an interesting insight into China, but was enlightening on the 'philosophy' behind Chinese cooking. I look for books that don't fall into a category of "romance" or "mystery", but rather provide an interesting story. This was such a book. I recommend this book to anyone who is looking to enjoy a good story, to learn, and to be swept away by an interesting culture.
I was surprised that I enjoyed this book so much. It has all the ingredients of an excellent read - a gripping story - what happens next? It is a sad story - a man dies, the grieving widow becomes a heroine and we learn a lot about China and its cuisine. The narrators have served up an excellent mixture of past and present.
If you are interested in food, especially Chinese food, in China and its history and in a good yarn do buy this book.
"Good, not great"
This is a reasonably good book. The characters are believable and engaging and the description is quite vivid. I found the narrator a bit bland - she didn't add a great deal. The other thing I found was that the description of the food was a bit monotonous. Everything was the most wonderful thing she'd ever eaten. It would have made for a believable story, and made it easier for the reader to empathise if there'd been a few nice things, a few not so good, as there are for most people discovering a cuisine. But still a decent book, engaging plot and not badly written
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