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The Last Chinese Chef: A Novel Paperback – June 6, 2008
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She and Sam hit it off right away, even though he is involved in a very important competition for a place on the Chinese national cooking team for the 2008 Olympics. They travel together to the south of China where she meets her husband's possible daughter--with Sam standing by to act as translator--and where Maggie meets much of Sam's family. He has been welcomed back with open arms, even though he occasionally feels that he has one foot in China and one in Ohio. The Beijing uncles and the Hangzhou uncle are a raucous, loving, argumentative bunch of foodies who advise Sam about menus, encourage a romance with Maggie, make him start over again when the dish isn't perfect, and alternately praise and criticize his cooking.
Maggie loves being in the middle of it all and finds herself more and more drawn to Sam. She begins, with Sam's help, to see food as "healing" and understands the guanxi or "connectedness" that takes place around food. At the beginning of each chapter is a paragraph taken from a book entitled The Last Chinese Chef, written by Sam's grandfather and translated by Sam and his father. Mones has written that book, too, which is an explanation of the place of food in Chinese history and family life. The novel is rich with meaning and lore and an examination of loving relationships. Don't even touch this book when you're hungry. The descriptions make the aromas and textures float right off the page. --Valerie Ryan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
More About the Author
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.
Top Customer Reviews
It is rare that I get up from a book about China so totally enthralled and educated from a tome written by a yang ren, a foreigner. This book is the second book that has made me feel this way in the last few years. The first was Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and Present by Peter Hessler, it was a non-fictional observation about China and the impact that globalization has had on Chinese society. This book is a work of fiction, by virtue of that fact, it was able to draw me further into all that it had to convey: on being Chinese, on the complicated intertwining of Chinese food culture and general culture, on the meaning of guanxi, on the wonders of Chinese cuisine.
I had always felt that due to the unsavory nature of Chinese-American food as it is, that the true nature of Chinese cuisine has never been fully unleashed on the American palate. I have stewed on the fact that the French and Italian cuisines rank so much higher on the sophistication scale of the American gastronome versus the lowly Chinese cuisine. I felt it but I was unable to express it adequately. Nicole Mones has done this and more with this story.Read more ›
The reader is immersed in the lives of those Maggie meets, in the essences of Chinese culture and familial bonds, and in the meaning of food and the culinary arts there. Often whilst reading, one can almost breathe in tempting aromas of dishes being prepared in bustling Chinese kitchens. But although succulent meals can be vicariously savored regularly in THE LAST CHINESE CHEF, and food is arguably at the heart of the novel, Mones doesn't scrimp on plot or on presenting believable and very different human characters, all of whom share one bounty: every person is basically decent and kind (not a ready characteristic of much current literature). No character leaves a dastardly or incorrigible impression when all is said and done. Indeed, the reader is left with a halcyon -- though perhaps an overly optimistic -- feeling that everything works for good, even if fate isn't immediately favorable.
Four and a half stars for a luscious feast of a book that radiates a love for China, its people, and its delectable cooking traditions.
This book captures that feeling and more...the characters are so real and believable that the moment the characters finally come together, it's something you've been rooting for all along. You want him to win, you want her to heal her heart...you want them together. When she thinks of staying in China forever, you tell her, yes, go on!!!
You read the culinary history excepts of Liang Wei with just as much intensity and you feel yourself drawn into a world that you wish you knew or as Sam feels, needs to be connected to...to be whole. The conversations he has with his uncles are some of the liveliest parts of the book....family ties you wish you had following you around the kitchen.
You don't need to love Chinese food or be a culinary history buff, this book is that good. But I guarantee you'll become one afterwards. You'll want another book to continue because the stories are so rich and there's still so much more we want to experience and *taste*!!! Did I mention all the luscious food, you'll never look at wonton soup the same way again...
Instead, the main story centers on Sam and Maggie, two of the most wooden, tepidly written characters you'll ever come across. Sam is a Chinese/American chef and Maggie is an American food writer sent to China to interview him. The problem is they're flat as cardboard.
Open to any page and try to imagine real people speaking the dialog of these two. For instance, after Sam has failed to impress his uncle with his cooking, he prepares to try again. In the kitchen, Sam says to Maggie:
"He's right. A meal like this has to be subtle." He cut with irritated clacks of his cleaver. "I ought to have known that."
"Well," she said. She sat listening to the rhythm of his cutting. This was a sound she liked. In time she noticed that the kitchen was a litter of sauces, chopped piles, covered dishes, and used bowls, and she walked to where he was standing. "I think you should move over, Sam. If you could. Make room at the sink. I can't cook in the slightest. I would never think of trying to help you. But I can wash. I happen to be very good at washing, and there's a lot of it here. Let me clean up behind you."
"You can't do that. You should sit down. You're a guest."
"You want me to be relaxed, right? Comfortable?" She waited for his confirming glance. "Then let me help. You're American.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
well researched and adequate writing. plot ball is dropped a few times. why bring up questions then simply never mention them again? Read morePublished 5 days ago by Elaine Schramm
The Last Chinese Chef
By Nicole Mones
A Book Review by Ginger Dawn Harman
Recently, my local library book club was given each a copy on loan to read and... Read more
I liked the story but didn't love it. I'm a foodie myself so I did enjoy the food preparation and descriptions and the historical aspect of Chinese cooking. Read morePublished 26 days ago by Amazon Customer
Great description the friendship more interesting than the romance thrown in at the end. Would recommend the book easy and fast read.Published 1 month ago by Cathryn Dhanatya
I'm a chef and really enjoyed all the food and Chinese cultural aspects of this book. I felt the characters were almost secondary to the culinary learning experiences.Published 1 month ago by SPS