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 wanted to listen to this straight through. The cadence was great, the historical commentary on both food and politics were perfect. I really cant think of a way to improve on the entire experience.
The descriptions of cooking and food were fascinating. The story itself was not. It was formulaic and predictable, and mildly entertaining.
Elisabeth Rodgers's voice is a bit depressing and flat. James Chen's voice is more interesting and engaging.
It was OK. At first, I wasn't going to finish it but I got hooked on the food.
To listen to a great book while I knit is heaven on earth.
First of all , let me admit , that I am a foodie. When my husband found out this book was about a food writer and a chef, he lost all interest. Is being a foodie a requirement ? No I don't think so. I, thoroughly enjoyed it. The atmosphere set out by the author successfully transported me to China. The characters were developed enough that I was easily able to buy into the story. The narrators did a marvelous job of putting me in the scene. All in all a good story.
It was an okay story but a good performance. I listened to it completely but I did get bored a few times.
It was the book. I wanted to like this - but I just couldn't. It was so boring, I couldn't even get into any of the characters.
A very good introduction to the way life and food unfolds in China. It brought me a lot of nostalgy, for we used to live there for three years....
Someone who didn't really care if the Chinese words were pronounced closed enough. It was hard to ignore or guess the off tone pronunciations when so many Chinese words were used to convey the emotions and the cuisine.
Yes, if there are no Chinese words pronunciations in the reading.
The story about Chinese cuisine.
I picked this book up because it was part of a sale event. I had low expectations because I sometimes find it hard to follow books set in Asia and spanning multiple generations. This book was easy to get into, had interesting storylines and characters, and I found myself looking forward to the chances I'd get to listen. You can see the ending coming a mile away, but even though you're progressing toward a known outcome, the journey is fun. And as a bonus: now I'm curious to try some legit Chinese food!
It's kind of what would happen of The Pilot's Wife and Eat, Pray, Love were put in a Vitamix and spun around: sadness gives way to curiosity, then self-discovery and, ultimately, romance. Maggie, a thirty-something widowed food writer, is called to China by her late husband's Bejing office to resolve a possible paternity suit that demands attention according to Chinese law. Since she's going, she accepts an assignment from her employer to profile a rising-star chef, and parallel discoveries begin: Was her late husband unfaithful? Did he leave a child behind? Can Sam Liang, the Chinese-American chef she's come to profile, admit Maggie beyond his protective armor to allow her to see the emotional center of true traditional Chinese cuisine? Will Sam win a critically important competition that will finish the arc of Maggie's profile? This modern story is interspersed with the diary of Sam's grandfather, chef to China's Dowager Empress, and Sam's father, who spurned his inheritance as culinary royalty to begin a humble life in America. Family, food, forgiveness are the backbone of The Last Chinese Chef. Fans of Nicole Mones' previous work (Lost in Translation and A Cup of Light) will feel full and happy at the end of this book. New readers will be left with an appetite for more.
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