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.
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 enjoyed the developing friendship between Sam and Maggie. Sam was my favorite character.
I felt Elisabeth Rodgers was by turns, superb/outstanding/exceptionally good, but also fell into a cadence at times that irritated me... Still, I had to give the narration 5 stars because I enjoyed her reading more than most audiobooks I've listened to. James Chen was incredible...
I was pretty touched throughout the story actually... I particularly enjoyed the last half hour of the book.
I'm glad I picked this one up... I want to listen to it again...
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.
Bookaholic. Favorite authors- Agatha Christie, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert A Heinlein.
Fun story, enjoyable listen. Wish this had been published before my visit to China as it contains very interesting insight into China and Chinese Food. Only one caution, listening to this story may make you hungry :-)
The effortless juggling of plots. I was charmed from the first page till the last. Right up till the end. Twenty minutes out from the end of the book I did not have a remote clue to the outcome - which I find rare these days.
I personally enjoyed their performances
It's the perfect name.
If your looking for soothing - comfortable - pleasing, this is the treat you are searching for.
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.
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.
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