Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Kitchen Chinese

Kitchen Chinese: A Novel About Food, Family, and Finding Yourself, by Ann Mah, did NOT pass the grilled cheese test.

If I'm completely riveted by an awesome book, I burn the grilled cheese.

Either the smoke sneaking out the kitchen door or the smell of burning bread snaps my head out of my dreamy alternate world into reality.

I didn't burn the bread.

While Kitchen Chinese was a pleasant read, the plot was predictable and parts unbelievable. Isabelle, an American born Chinese is from New York and gets fired from her magazine job. She goes to live with her sister, Claire, in Beijing. I liked the author's description of China, the food and living as an expat.I found myself shaking my head in agreement at some of her observations and I learned about some Chinese medicine techniques that no one has been able to translate for me such as moxibustion. When I workout I see women in the locker room with perfectly round, ugly looking bruises all over their backs. This form of Chinese medicine, Mah explains in her book,  is when toxins are sucked out of the body using hot glass cups.

I also liked the descriptions of food and the city: "I continue down the street until I reach a small street that's lined with ramshackle storefronts. Here each step brings a different smell, first an acrid wave of cigarette smoke, then the reek of garbage, then the cozy wafting scent of fried dough. It's a reminder of how closely packed life is here, where generations share bedrooms, neighborhoods share bathrooms and stacks of Napa cabbage are stored next to trash heaps." p. 62

Isabelle is single and dating and has several men interested in her. She's working for an expat magazine and is a food columnist. Everything goes right for Isabelle. She gets a huge scoop, attracts a pop-star, freelances an article for a famous newspaper, always seems to write "amazing" articles and doesn't struggle with writing except for the occasional writer's block.

Yeah right.

It doesn't work that way in journalism. As a freelance writer it is a guarantee the writer will get rejection notices. I would have liked to see Isabelle struggle with this part of freelance writing because it is very difficult and hurtful to get rejection letters. All writers get them. And all have to deal with them in their own way.

Gone with the Wind was rejected 38 times.

A Wrinkle in Time was rejected 26 times.

This book is more of a fantasy for a writer. No rejections, little criticism, only success. I preferred how the authors, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, portrayed the struggle of creating a story in the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

The title of the book suggests it is like Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert but there isn't enough reflection or humor compared to Gilbert's book.

I would describe this book as a light romance novel that captures the foods and sights of China.

Don't expect to burn your grilled cheese.

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys

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