“The recipe is for the crestfallen, the unsmiling, and the ones who need sunshine in their souls.”
There is no heart a good meal cannot cheer – that is the Asian mantra. You can read any book or watch any film, and majority of the time, food is a central focus. Think The Joy Luck Club, Crazy Rich Asians, or the award winning short film “Bao” – there it is, plain as day. Roselle Lim’s novel is no exception. In fact, this element is heightened because of her protagonist’s desire to open her own restaurant. Her path hasn’t been an easy path, paved with disappointment and estrangement. Natalie Tan’s mother wanted a life for her outside the confines of the kitchen, a life her grandmother had thrived in. Now Natalie faces her biggest test yet as she learns to cook the way her laolao (grandmother) did.
“Food comforts, heals, and is the only lover I will ever take.”
As she begins to cook for the people around her, the food from her laolao’s recipes begin to heal and restore. I found myself looking forward to the descriptions of the food, and felt compelled to seek some out in the real world because of how wonderfully immersing Lim’s writing is. The magic at the heart of the book flows bewitchingly through her writing. She strings words to create beautiful pictures for us to keep in our heads, leaving us gawking in wonder at the sights, smells and gustatory experiences of Chinatown.
Food is also tied to romance in Lim’s novel, and it is oh-so-sweet to see Natalie literally combusting as the man she fancies eats her food. I don’t think I have ever read of a meet-cute unfurling because a man followed the tantalising smell of dumplings, yet it works in the world Lim created. As steam emanates from the food, it similarly ripples off their skins – it’s crazy hot stuff. I never particularly believed food and eating to be an erotic experience, but my-oh-my it was certainly hot under my collar watching Natalie watch Daniel eat. The way to a man’s heart is truly through his belly.
“As strange as my mother had been with her quirks and superstitions, my memories of her and our time together were stitched into the thickest of blankets, ready whenever I needed comfort. And I needed it now.”
Mother-daughter relationships are such an integral part of the book. In these relationships we see the tension between desire and expectation, and the loss experienced because of it. Yet at the same time, love remains at the core of it all. Mothers lose their daughters as they follow their hearts, but they never stop loving them or longing for a reunion, which at times may never come to be.
In a way, reading Lim’s book made me feel like I had just consumed a good meal, satisfied and heartened at its conclusion, but also sad that it is over. So it is no surprise that this book has earned my heartiest recommendation – may it fill you up and satiate your literary hunger.
Review copy provided
Roselle Lim’s novel is one that satiates like a good meal. Well written and gustatorily stirring.