Title: Natalie Tan’s Book
of Luck and Fortune
Author: Roselle Lim
Genre: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Berkley Books
(Penguin Random House)
A physical copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
At the news of her mother’s death, Natalie Tan returns home. The two women hadn’t spoken since Natalie left in anger seven years ago, when her mother refused to support her chosen career as a chef. Natalie is shocked to discover the vibrant neighborhood of San Francisco’s Chinatown that she remembers from her childhood is fading, with businesses failing and families moving out. She’s even more surprised to learn she has inherited her grandmother’s restaurant.
The neighborhood seer reads the restaurant’s fortune in the leaves: Natalie must cook three recipes from her grandmother’s cookbook to aid her struggling neighbors before the restaurant will succeed. Unfortunately, Natalie has no desire to help them try to turn things around–she resents the local shopkeepers for leaving her alone to take care of her agoraphobic mother when she was growing up. But with the support of a surprising new friend and a budding romance, Natalie starts to realize that maybe her neighbors really have been there for her all along.
Roselle Lim’s debut has got to be one of the more unique books I’ve ever read. It’s listed as a contemporary romance, but it’s unlike any other contemporary romance that I’ve ever read before. There was barely even any romance if I’m being honest, and the romance portion was not a very important part of the plot in my opinion. I would almost re-categorize this book under literary fiction and/or contemporary fiction containing magical realism. And I will explain why. Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune centers around how Natalie’s mother passes away and how Natalie returns home after the fact and tries to re-integrate herself into the society she left behind.
But the story also places a lot of focus on community, culture, food, and magic. The reason why I want to say magical realism rather than magic, though, is because a lot of the magic is only seen by Natalie, while some of the magic affects the real world directly but isn’t acknowledged by any of the other characters. So, while reading Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune I definitely focused more on my curiosities regarding the magic, and my focus on the entire plot, whereas with contemporary romance my focus would normally be “will A and B get together by the end of the book?” Maybe I’m thinking too much about labels, but I feel as if they’re important sometimes when you’re trying to find audiences for your book, or when one reader wants to recommend a book to another reader. So, overall, this book was enjoyable for me even though it ended up being completely different from what I had expected.
Roselle Lim was born in the Philippines and immigrated to Canada as a child. She lived in north Scarborough in a diverse, Asian neighbourhood. She found her love of writing by listening to her lola (paternal grandmother’s) stories about Filipino folktales. Growing up in a household where Chinese superstition mingled with Filipino Catholicism, she devoured books about mythology, which shaped the fantasies in her novels. An artist by nature, she considers writing as “painting with words.”
What made you choose the Chinatown in San Francisco as the setting for Natalie Tan‘s Book of Luck and Fortune rather than one of the other Chinatowns (such as the ones located in New York, Toronto, or Vancouver)?
San Francisco, as the oldest Chinatown in North America, has symbolic significance. I was born, and grew up, in Binondo (Manila), which is the oldest Chinatown in the world. As such, my family has always gravitated to Chinatowns on our road trips. They are a source of comfort. Spotting the paifangs was welcoming: it implied the familiar was nearby.
Did you create the magical attributes of each dish in this book yourself or were you inspired by lore or what overs have said about the dishes?
It is a combination of both. I created the magical attributes based on what the dish represented. I ate all these, so I knew what each inspired within me. For instance, I associate Arroz Caldo with my grandmother and the comfort of my family. She made it on cooler nights and it soothed my soul.
Did you plan for the magic in your book to manifest as it did from the very beginning, or did that happen more on its own while you were writing?
I see magic in the ordinary, and Chinese culture is rooted in believing magic is everywhere. These ideas were so prevalent in my life that it was natural for me to include them into my novel.
To me, a life without magic is one without vibrancy.
THANK YOU FOR READING MY REVIEW! HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK? WHAT DID YOU THINK? AND IF YOU HAVEN’T READ IT YET, DO YOU WANT TO, OR NOT? HOW COME? LET ME KNOW YOUR THOUGHTS IN THE COMMENTS!