I’ve been looking forward to reading this book since the beginning of the year. I was rejected twice for the review copy, but the bookish gods smiled upon me and I received one in my inbox! It was everything I had hoped it to be and even more. It’s safe to say it’s one of the best books I’ve read in 2019.
Title: Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune
Author: Roselle Lim
Genre: Adult, contemporary fiction
Published on June 11th, 2019 by Berkley Books
🍜 s y n o p s i s 🍜
When Natalie Tan receives the news that her mother has passed away, she hops on a plane from Toronto to San Francisco, her hometown. The two women hadn’t been in touch in years, since Natalie left home to pursue her dream of becoming a chef, against her mom’s wishes. As Natalie handles funeral arrangements, she rediscovers San Francisco’s Chinatown, the place where she grew up. Family secrets are revealed, gentrification threatens to kill the neighborhood, and Natalie goes on a self-discovery journey without leaving Chinatown.
Thanks for the free book, @PRHGlobal & @prhinternational
Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune hits so many perfect notes. Roselle Lim really is a great writer and this book deserves to do incredibly well!
For starters, the setting is brilliantly explored. Natalie travels to Chinatown, San Francisco, the place where she grew up. As she walks the streets on her way home from the airport, she notices just how much the neighborhood has changed. Stores have closed, new businesses have opened instead, and many of the shopkeepers she knew as a kid are struggling badly to stay afloat. This is when we’re introduced to the gentrification of Chinatown. As the economy slows down and start-ups spring up from nowhere, the residents of the neighborhood are practically forced to leave their homes and businesses. In Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune, Chinatown IS its own character. From the iconic Dragon Gate to the sweets shop and restaurants, the setting is always vibrant and full of great memories for Natalie. It feels so genuine and immersive, it’s the perfect setting, to be honest.
Then, you also have a loveable cast of secondary characters. Natalie blames her neighbors for her mother’s death, as she thinks they didn’t help her despite knowing she had agoraphobia. Although they are somewhat two-dimensional, that doesn’t take away from how enjoyable their stories and scenes are. They all have distinctive traits that add depth to the story and shape Natalie’s character. It’s not often that I love secondary characters, but Older Shen, Younger Shen, Cecilia, and the rest of the neighbors were charming and a pleasure to read about.
Of course, I can’t review this book and not mention how meaningful and well-written Natalie’s relationship with food is. For her, food brings back memories of her mother and serves as a way to connect with her laolao (grandmother), whom she never had the chance of meeting. It is through food that Natalie tries to resolve the rift between her and Miranda, her mother. The titular Book of Luck and Fortunes is, in fact, a recipe book passed down from Natalie’s laolao. Thus, seeing how emotionally and spiritually connected to food Natalie is warmed up my heart. After all, for many of us, even the scent of a family recipe is enough to make us feel comfortable and less sad or anxious. Not to mention that all the food sounds DELICIOUS — especially those dumplings!!!
Natalie’s growth, ambitions, and dreams are portrayed in a realistic and inspiring way. Much of the book revolves her goal of saving her community from gentrification and bringing back happiness to her neighbors’ lives. I loved seeing her trying to achieve this and especially see her fail along the way. It was incredibly real and honest! Natalie grows a lot throughout the book, and as a reader, you’re inspired to go out and chase your dreams too. If Tan can do it, so can you!
The only reason why I’m not rating this a 5-star book is because the writing felt a little too expositional at times. Since it’s told from a 1st-person perspective, it feels like telling and not showing, sometimes. However, I know this is just a personal preference thing, so it really didn’t take away anything from my reading experience!
food of my life
This book had me thinking, “What foods do I connect with and bring me memories?” After mulling over recipes for a day or two, I’ve come up with a list of recipes that always bring me good thoughts and comforting thoughts.
You’ll see that a lot of these are traditional Portuguese dishes from Alentejo, the place where my family comes from. I don’t talk much about my origins here, so I thought it would be interesting to just show you a few dishes I love, à la Natalie Tan!
Note: Most of these dishes have fish or meat in them. However, as I am a vegetarian, my family tweaks these recipes so we can all eat them.
🍞 Açorda: This is the ultimate comfort food. It’s just fresh cilantro, plenty of garlic, boiling water, salt and pepper, and old bread (stale) all thrown together. It’s my go-to recipe in the winter and reminds me of my grandparents.
🥚 Ervilhas com ovos (peas and eggs): My mom makes this all the time. It’s a mix of peas, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and poached eggs. It’s seriously the best food for cold winters.
🍅 Gaspacho: Summer recipe? Hell yeah. It’s made of finely diced/cubed tomatoes and cucumbers, salt, pepper, cider vinegar, and cold, cold water. Unlike the Spanish recipe, we don’t blend everything together.
🌿 Massada de peixe (a fish pasta dish): I don’t eat fish, so this is a recipe I don’t eat anymore but still love. It’s made from boiled fish, elbow/curved noodles, cilantro, poached eggs, and lots of garlic and onion! Serve it scalding hot and enjoy all the flavours together.
🍞 Migas de espargos: Once again, day-old bread makes a comeback! I’m not sure how to make this (my grandma makes it all the time), but I know it has bread and asparagus in it. It’s so filling and, if you swap out the asparagus for something else, the best budget meal.
🥒 Salada Algarvia: It’s a salad, simple, right? Yes, and oh so delicious. Get onion, garlic, ripe tomatoes, and cucumbers all cut into strips or cubes. Then, drizzle with quality olive oil (crucial) and cider vinegar. Add salt and pepper and you have the perfect, simple salad!
Have you read Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune yet? What food brings back good memories to you? I’d love to hear (and drool over) your comments!