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A Cup of Light Hardcover – March 26, 2002

41 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Mones's second novel, after Lost in Translation, twins a conventional romance with an unconventional and intriguing art world mystery. Lia Frank, a specialist in Chinese porcelain for a Sotheby's-like art dealer called Hastings, flies to Beijing to appraise a cache of some 20 porcelain pots secretly offered for sale by a Chinese developer, only to find that there are close to 800 pots of unsurpassed beauty. Given the value of the collection some $190 million Hastings fears fraud, and it is Lia's job to ensure that the collection is authentic and contains no fakes. Early in her search, Lia comes upon a replica of a late 15th-century Ming masterpiece, which makes her question the provenance of the entire collection. Meanwhile, Lia develops an interest in one of her neighbors, a research physician, though her stay may be too short for a relationship to bloom. Perhaps because it is convenient to the novel, Mones has made Lia a mnemonist, who has memorized not only every pot she has ever examined, but also every catalogue and history. (Readers of The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci will be familiar with feats of this sort.) This talent allows her to reconstruct significant events in the history of the collection. Though the mnemonic tricks are contrived, these passages are the novel's most arresting. Here the language is fresh (elsewhere it seems mechanical), and Mones slips easily into her characters' skins (elsewhere you feel her struggling). Still, she generates real suspense moving cinematically from character to character and place to place all the while deftly sketching the intricacies of Chinese porcelain and the world of imitators and smugglers that surround it. Major ad/promo.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

After the success of Lost in Translation, Mones revisits China with a new character, Lia Frank, who gets more than she bargained for when she flies to Beijing to evaluate some imperial porcelain.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press; First Edition edition (March 26, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385319371
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385319379
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,759,543 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Watch the NIGHT IN SHANGHAI trailer at

A newly launched textile business took Nicole Mones to China for the first time in 1977, after the end of the Cultural Revolution. As an individual she traded textiles with China for eighteen years before she turned to writing about that country. Her novels The Last Chinese Chef, Lost in Translation and A Cup of Light are in print in twenty languages and have received multiple juried prizes, including the Kafka Prize (year's best work of fiction by any American woman) and Kiriyama Prize (finalist; for the work of fiction which best enhances understanding of any Pacific Rim Culture).

From 1999-2008 Mones wrote about Chinese cuisine for Gourmet magazine. Her nonfiction writing on China has also appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. She is a member of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 43 people found the following review helpful By L. Heubeck on April 14, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Nicole Mones takes us back to China with her second book. If you are expecting a book similar to her first (Lost In Translation) then begin Cup of Light again. Mones shows her tremendous versatility as a creative writer of mystery and romance. Yet, as in her first book, the author displays her trademark ability to take the reader right inside her characters.
It is obvious from page one that Mones spent a great deal of time researching the Chinese porcelain world. Her writing style subtlety educates the reader as it draws you deeper into a multi-faceted mystery. Lia's recollections (from memory) of historical facts were fabulous. I found myself reading and re-reading them. She maintains the mystery surrounding the porcelain to the end of the novel, providing the readers with twists and turns to keep us guessing.
Are you tired of the man dumps woman, woman hits rock bottom, woman struggles and despite odds becomes rich and famous, man returns groveling only to be dumped by woman novel? Then get this book. Mones is a refreshing author who obviously understands that there are readers who want to think and be entertained at the same time. When is her next novel due? I await it anxiously! In the interim, Cup of Light gets my highest recommendation.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on April 29, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I read Nicole Mones' first book, Lost in Translation, and knew that I had happened upon a talented and brilliant writer. She creates interesting and compelling characters and, like the previous reviewer said, puts you into their mind as you read, and immerses you into a new world and culture.
Having never known anything about porcelain, this book taught me so much without being preachy at all. Mones has a way of weaving fact into fiction so that it reads in an interesting way and becomes a part of the story. And that goes the same for the culture both of China and of the intricate world of porcelain. Who would have known that some of those pieces date back hundreds of thousands of years and are worth billions?
And weaved within all of the interesting backgrounds of history, art and culture, there are multi-dimensional characters who you will not want to see go, as well as stories of romance, of art theft and of a world so different from the one's we live from day to day.
The story primarily revolves around a woman named Lia who is a porcelain appraiser sent to look at hundreds of pieces of porcelain in China. While there, she teaches us all about the history of many of these pieces, as well as so much more. She also teaches about an "underground" world of people who smuggle such works out of China, and she begins a budding romance with a doctor who left the US and an unsettled past.
The intricacies of this book are as unique as the pieces of art Lia describes. You will not be disappointed, except to see it end. And you will be left with a story you won't soon forget, as well as insight into a world you might have otherwise overlooked.
I hope to see more work by this author soon!
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 22, 2003
Format: Paperback
Nicole Mones' knowledge of China and of ancient porcelain is awe-inspiring. She has done her homework! Lia is an incredibly beautiful character. Since one of the editorial reviewers alluded to it, I'll note that she is deaf. This is not a handicap to her. In fact, it is responsible for that mental device of storing information in her head which he reviewer disliked. And she turned down the idea of cochlear inplants, which might have given her near-normal hearing. She likes her hearing aids, for lots of reasons. For one thing, she can take them out, and the silence in her head helps her move into that memory storage system which is so important in sorting out every piece of Chinese porcelain ever published. For another, she can turn them partway down and walk through the loud Chinese markets or sit in a loud Chinese bar and not be blown away by the sound! This is a good lesson, lightly applied, in what "handicapped" really means.
The plot moves back and forth, focusing on Lia, but showing us also people she never meets, the go-betweens, the ultimate buyers in the US, who want the art just because they can afford it (knowing they can never display it), the Chinese officials who don't want it to leave China but need even the little kick-back money that will come to the government. I learned a lot about the history of porcelain, but also about what happened to it during Chinese history, especially before, during and after WW II.
And Lia has to learn to tell forgeries from the real thing--even forgeries so beautiful they make her heart break. The descriptions are so beautiful they will make your heart break too. The writing is sensual, whether of the pots, leaves in the park, food, the man who might make a difference in Lia's life. It will be hard to wait for Nicole Mones' third novel.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Alasdair Brooks on March 20, 2005
Format: Paperback
Mones' description of the Hong Kong antiques trade is engaging, her knowledge of the beauty of Chinese porcelain convincing, and - despite my initial scepticism - the romance is handled surprisingly well given its predictibility. So far, so good.

But her characterisations aren't just mechanical, they're downright clunky. It sometimes seems as if Mones decided that both the female (Lia) and male (Michael) leads had to have 'difficult' pasts, and randomly selected their two character quirks each by throwing darts at a list. She's the deaf porcelain expert from a broken home! He's the Rai-loving doctor whose wife left him after nursing him through life-threatening cancer! She's the author trying a bit too hard to make her characters interesting! Really, really interesting! Oh, so VERY INTERESTING!

Sorry, but that just didn't work for me.

There's also a terribly under-written sub-plot involving an official from a Beijing museum that's dropped early on, and then suddenly re-introduced with no further development just as the main character's leaving mainland China. This just comes across as sloppy writing.

Finally, while I've done my best to judge the book on its own merits in this review, it's worth noting that as an archaeologist with a doctorate in ceramics studies, I have a serious problem with the way the book's plot involves the illegal smuggling of vast quantities of China's cultural heritage with no apparent consequences to any of the main characters. It would be unfair of me to accuse Mones of glamorising illegal smuggling, and it can be argued that she's simply trying to portray the realities of the current situation. But that doesn't mean I have to like it, and this aspect of the book simply didn't appeal for what I hope are obvious reasons.
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