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Mambo in Chinatown Hardcover – June 24, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover; 1ST edition (June 24, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594632006
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594632006
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,243 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Clumsy 22-year-old Charlie Wong had hoped to become a noodle maker, like her famous father, but instead toils away night and day as a dishwasher in New York City’s Chinatown. Her mother, once a star dancer for the Beijing Ballet, passed away when Charlie was 14, and she has spent the years since looking after her younger sister, Lisa. And it’s Lisa who recognizes that Charlie’s job saps all of her happiness and energy. Lisa encourages Charlie to accept a receptionist’s position at a ballroom dance studio in Midtown Manhattan, and, for the first time, Charlie begins to realize that she may have inherited her mother’s talent. Soon she is entirely transformed, teaching beginning students and competing in a dance competition. Not everyone is happy with the change, especially her father. Drawing on her newfound confidence, Charlie attempts to navigate the great divide between Eastern and Western cultures. In her winning second novel (after Girl in Translation, 2010), Kwok infuses her heartwarming story with both the sensuality of dance and the optimism of a young woman coming into her own. --Joanne Wilkinson

Review



"A charming fable."—USA Today

“A riveting story . . . [one of] the season’s hottest page-turners.”—Real Simple

"Western convention clashes with traditional Eastern culture when a young, impoverished Chinese-American woman dips her toe into the glittering world of professional ballroom dancing—and finds love."—Woman's Day

“In her winning second novel (after Girl in Translation, 2010), Kwok infuses her heartwarming story with both the sensuality of dance and the optimism of a young woman coming into her own.”—Booklist

"Charlie’s Cinderella story, not to mention Charlie herself, is charming."—Kirkus


More About the Author

Jean Kwok immigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn when she was five and worked in a Chinatown clothing factory for much of her childhood. She won early admission to Harvard, where she worked as many as four jobs at a time, and graduated with honors in English and American literature, before going on to earn an MFA in fiction at Columbia. In between her degrees, she worked for three years as a professional ballroom dancer for Fred Astaire Studios in New York City.

Her debut novel Girl in Translation became a New York Times bestseller. It has been published in 17 countries and chosen as the winner of an American Library Association Alex Award, a Chinese American Librarians Association Best Book Award, an Orange New Writers Book, a National Blue Ribbon Book, a John Gardner Fiction Book Award finalist, a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick and an Indie Next Pick, among other honors. It was featured in The New York Times, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, Vogue and O, The Oprah Magazine, among others. A Dutch television documentary with English subtitles was filmed about Jean and her work. Jean lives in the Netherlands with her husband and two sons.

Learn more about Jean here:
www.jeankwok.com
www.facebook.com/JeanKwokAuthor
www.twitter.com/JeanKwok

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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This book will keep you turning pages until the very end.
AuburnTygr
And I loved the characters of Charlie, Lisa, Pa, and the other personalities in Chinatown, as well as those in the dance studio.
Susan Blumberg-Kason
The story is humorous, yet moving, illustrates gentleness in character, as well as the need for strength.
donnaspeaks

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Robert G Yokoyama VINE VOICE on March 7, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Mambo In Chinatown is about how the life of a twenty-two year old Chinese woman is transformed when she becomes a professional ball room dancer and dance instructor. I admire ball room dancer because of the athletic ability they possess. I have never done ball room dancing, but I enjoy visualizing all the spins, lifts and turns that Jean Kwok describes. I really like the title because I never thought Chinese people were known for being good ball room dancers.

Charlie is a strong lead female character. She starts the novel as a clumsy dish washer. But through hard work and determination, she becomes a graceful ball room dancer. The professional chemistry and romance that develops between Charlie and her dance partner is a lovely relationship that develops in the novel. I learned that having a background in tai chi and boxing could help someone become a graceful dancer.

I also like the relationship between Charlie and her younger sister Lisa. They are sisters, but because of an eleven year age difference their relationship is more like of a mother and daughter. This relationship is beautiful. Charlie feels enormous pressure about having to be both a sister and a mother at the same time. This is an aspect that makes Charlie's character so fascinating. I like reading how she tries to juggle two different roles.

I am half Chinese. So personally, I found the elements of Chinese culture included in this novel are fun to read. Kwok makes a reference to using the mugwort herb in acupuncture treatments. I have never tried this before, but I wonder if it would help me with my back and joints. She also makes a reference to eating caterpillar soup as a cure for the common cold.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Dawn Kessinger VINE VOICE on March 9, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Upon finishing Mambo in Chinatown, I felt like I'd stepped out of a fairy tale. There's something so captivating about Charlie, her family and her story - it's like hearing a catchy new song for the first time and realizing halfway through you're tapping your foot, completely lost in the rhythm of it.

Mostly, the story is about Charlie's transformation from hard-working, almost invisible, ugly duckling girl to beautiful, confident swan. It's fun and satisfying traveling with her through her transformation; her innocence and first experiences wearing pretty, fashionable clothes, learning difference dances with both professionals and her own competition student, helping friends, standing up to her father, falling in love, and trying to save her sister are all believable and unravel at a good pace.

The secondary characters - Charlie's increasingly ill little sister, Lisa; her good-hearted and hard-working but still grief-stricken father who believes tradition is the only way to move forward; her uncle Henry who is a doctor; her Godmother, with whom she helps teach a tai chi class; her old friend, Zan, who desperately wants to earn her drivers license and get out of Chinatown; and new friends at the dance studio who help her flourish in the dance world: Nina, Adrienne, Julian, and Mateo; her first dance students Naomi and Ryan; and the witch called the Vision and her assistant, young Todd, all feel colorful and alive, add to the story and feel important to Charlie's transformation.

There are no loose ends or cliff-hangers at the end, which was smooth and hopeful. I enjoyed everything about the book, except perhaps that it felt almost too perfect - I don't want to complain about good things happening, but the resolution of problems felt a bit too polished, neat and easy.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Lisa Niver Rajna on June 30, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I was inspired by this book and wrote about it for the Jewish Journal
[...]

Do you have a desire that is so secret it is almost unknown even to you? In Jean Kwok's Mambo in Chinatown, we have the treat of unraveling the life of Charlie Wong:

"My name is Charlie Wong and I'm the daughter of a dancer and a noodle-maker. My mother was once a star ballerina at the famed Beijing Dance Academy before she ran off to marry my father, the handsomest noodle-maker in Beijing--or at least that's what she always called him before she died. Hand in hand, they escaped to America to start their family."

In this novel, we learn that Charlie believes she is homely and she learned "early on not to attract any attention...if I was good for nothing but washing dishes, I'd resolved to be the best dishwasher I could." Her mother and younger sister, Lisa, are "poised, elegant and beautiful," and this "Black Swan" style tale begins with Charlie saying:

"To be honest, I didn't mind. I wished not for a new job or place but for a different life altogether, to change not the where but the how of things. Some people dreamed of going someplace else; I dreamed of being someone else. Someone who hadn't always been in the bottom half of her class at school....Sometimes I would look at Lisa and Pa and silently ask the gods, "Could I please not be born into such a good-looking family in my next life?" It wasn't easy being a cow among gazelles."

Fortunately Charlie has a godmother who teaches her tai chi, believes in her and shares wisdom: `If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.'" "Is that from a Hallmark card?" she asks her Godmother, who replies: "No, it's Lao Tzu.
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