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)
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.
Really liked both Maggie and Sam
I wouldn't change the name
This if a wonderful cultural journey through food, friends and tales of the past. There is enough intrigue to keep the you engaged but no violence. It has me ready for some real true, Chinese cuisine.
Love, Food, China
I have not read another like this book
I particularly appreciated the sections explaining the Chinese philosophy of food preparation, ingredients, and the importance of sharing meals. The "quotes" of the Last Chinese Chef introducing each chapter were poetic. I visited China and appreciated and enjoyed the people there. This book helped explain why I had such admiration for the lovely, funny, warm people I met there.
I am planning another visit to China. This book will allow me to pay more attention to the cooking in China and so seek some imperial Chinese meals. I am so glad to have this book.
Yes. It's a very informative story about the interactions between a western woman and a Chinese American man in China as they deal with two very different world views and cultures. The information about traditional Chinese cuisine is fascinating and enjoyably educational.
Sam, although the Uncles are pretty interesting characters too.
Their voices were suitable for the characters and just a pleasure to hear.
Without giving away too much of the story, I felt like weeping when Sam didn't win the contest. The following scenes with the Uncles and Maggie were culturally realistic and very moving.
I spent a few months in China and have lived in other Asian countries and I appreciated the way the cultures were presented. The usual stereotypes were missing. Thank goodness for that.
This book was a pleasant surprise! I was not sure what to expect when it first began but after listening I would highly recommend it. A journey through the culture and cuisine from China via a story. The narrators are excellent!
This is a very enjoyable novel. Yes, it is a romance, and will probably mostly appeal to women readers, but it is not 'typical' of that genre. Because of the travel and wonderful foodie appeal, it reminded me in some ways of Eat, Pray, Love. I particularly liked the maturity of the characters, both in age and life experience. The narration was excellent as well.
I really enjoyed this book It was very interesting and I received greater insight into the
Chinese culture while listening to a well told story. I have recommended it to my friends and will look for the work of this author and narrators again. Thanks for the entertainment
The book was interesting but I did get a bit bored with it. It moves at a slow pace.
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