- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: Riverhead Books (June 24, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9781594632006
- ISBN-13: 978-1594632006
- ASIN: 1594632006
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 144 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,013,864 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Mambo in Chinatown: A Novel Hardcover – June 24, 2014
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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
"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
"Rarely has [this story] been told with such grace, lightness and humor as in this delightful novel by the author of the best-selling Girl in Translation (2010)." — Chicago Tribune
"Best Books of 2014: One of This Summer’s Hottest Page-Turners. A riveting story about a young woman who ultimately finds her calling and manages to exceed everyone's expectations - including, most important, her own." — Real Simple
"A young woman who finds herself through ballroom dancing must make peace with her old life in New York's Chinatown. Charming." — USA Today
“Dreams Take Flight in Jean Kwok’s Mambo in Chinatown…a great story of cultural conflict and reaching for your dreams.” — Boston Herald
“Mambo in Chinatown has a propulsive narrative drive and tells an often compelling tale of East-West conflict, adaptation, and assimilation...[readers] will keep turning the pages.” — Boston Globe
“… Like a ballroom dance itself: captivating and sure-footed, and hard to look up from. Kwok draws from her own experience working in Chinatown in her youth, eventually becoming a ballroom dancer and taking to the floor with confidence. Kwok brings to the page all the detail and fluidity that one would expect of a seasoned dancer and writer.” — Bustle
“Kwok is at her best when exploring and smudging such differences involving culture or class — which in turn suggests that any of us really could become whomever we want to be.” — Journal Sentinel
“Editors’ Picks: Excited for Jean Kwok’s Mambo in Chinatown. The story is akin to that in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, one of my favorite novels from 2013, in that the main character is torn between two cultures and is unsure of her place in either.” — Library Journal
"The kind of book where I put it down, closed my eyes, and the characters were still dancing in my mind. Sweet and lovely, filled with old-world tradition, Chinese superstition, and the complicated dance of forbidden love." — Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and Songs of Willow Frost
“Although the characters are fictional, their personal struggles and emotions are based upon authentic experiences, which make them unforgettable.”
— Sing Tao (largest and oldest Chinese newspaper in the US)
"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
"Kwok has created a charming heroine into whose dance shoes readers can easily step. Charlie faces many of the same dilemmas that plague modern young women: balancing the demands of family and career without sacrificing too much of either, choosing whether or not to pursue love when it may mean giving up a fulfilling work life. Kwok has a gift for conveying the passion and sensuality of ballroom dancing in her energetic prose." — Shelf Awareness
“Best Books Read in June: Kwok does an exceptional job of rendering this lesser-visited part of America in a way that’s reverent toward both sides of the story…The sister relationship between Charlie and Lisa, who is much younger than her, was my favorite part of the story though — the love they have for one another and the pain and grief they endure together is vivid.”— Book Riot
"An engrossing cross-cultural coming-of-age tale." — Largehearted Boy
“It’s hard to improve on the Cinderella theme, but Jean Kwok manages to do just that.” — Book Reporter
"From Kwok (Girl in Translation, 2010), another story about a plucky young Chinese-American woman whose hard work transports her out of poverty and hidebound traditions to find love and success... Charlie's Cinderella story, not to mention Charlie herself, is charming.” — Kirkus
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Cha Lan "Charlie" Wong, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, has never been outside the city limits of Chinatown in New York City. Now 22, she's spent years keeping mostly to herself, working as a dishwasher in the same restaurant where her father is employed as a skilled noodle maker.
Life has been a constant struggle for Charlie. She did poorly in school and even now in adulthood is described as homely, uncoordinated, no domestic skills to speak of, not tech savvy in the least... in short, nobody expects much of her. Knowing this, Charlie is stunned when her younger sister Lian Hua ("Lisa") urges her to apply for a receptionist position that just opened up at a local ballroom dance studio.
Charlie is awkward during the interview process but one of the co-owners sees something in her and decides to give her a chance. The reader is then given a front row seat to Charlie bumbling through this receptionist position. Still, she becomes fascinated with the world of dance -- the studio instructors, the different students and their backstories -- it undeniably leaves her feeling very much out of her element, yet she persists in making this job work so that she can keep her grasp on this new and beautiful world she's been brought into.
When one instructor is suddenly unable to teach a beginner's class, Charlie is shocked to hear she's been recommended to pose as the teacher. Just for that one class... but still! As it turns out, the students in this class interpret her uncertainty in her abilities as Charlie actually being very down-to-earth and relatable. Suddenly, Charlie is approached with requests to teach more classes! Though she accepts, she quietly starts taking dance lessons between classes so she can move from imposter to legit instructor. This move turns out to be empowering and life-changing. For one, in the past whenever tomboyish Charlie would make attempts to get all girly and pretty, someone in the family would immediately shoot down her efforts, so she would quickly go back to her old routine. NOW, after getting a little rhythm and soul in her bones, she finds the boldness to snap back and inform people that such "primping" as some might call it, makes her feel good... and it's her right. So, there.
Through Charlie's journey, author Jean Kwok explores not only the hard truth about the world of dance -- the discomfort that comes along with training your body to move a certain way; the surprisingly high cost of the proper shoes; ruined, blistered feet; certification exams, etc. -- but also family hardships. We see Charlie tackle emotions surrounding the process of emotionally letting go of familial or societal expectations (her family finds a multitude of ways to try to guilt her into staying the same rather than encouraging emotional growth or pursuing soul-fulfilling dreams), finding courage to forge her own path, discovering and embracing who she truly is. Kwok also weaves in themes not uncommon to many immigrant experience novels: she, through her characters, asks "How does one blend old and new? How do we move with the tide of modernism while still properly honoring one's heritage... can it be done?". *Note: Though Charlie is American-born, much of the immigrant story is told through the experiences of her immediate & extended family, as well as Charlie's own observations of what comes along with being the child of immigrants.
When a family member falls seriously ill with a mysterious illness that doctors can't seem to successfully diagnose, Charlie feels helpless as she watches her loved one fall victim to bouts of bed-wetting, nightmares, dizziness, and migraines. She wants to continue pursuing modern methods of medicine, even while fearing the expense. Conversely, her father prefers going to an old world style herbalist in Chinatown, simply known as The Vision. Charlie doesn't want to go against her father and leave him feeling disrespected, however due the seriousness of the symptoms of this illness, she (with a dash of guilt) admits that she's nervous to leave this matter to Eastern medicine.
While maybe not every reader will relate to the immigrant experience aspect of this novel, the familial themes will likely ring relevant to most that pick up this book. Who hasn't had to face the struggle of making our family proud versus following our own heart's passion? While the story wasn't always particularly gripping, there was something to Charlie's world that I felt comfortably, breezily invested in. Recommended for those always on the hunt for underdog / ugly duckling type stories.
I’m sorry to say I didn’t like this novel very much. It started out well but rapidly devolved to a standard women’s fiction (borderline romance) revolving around an ugly duckling turning beautiful (ballroom dancer) swan. Mixed in was a fairly obvious sub plot about her little sister having what appeared to be a wasting illness but they were treating with obviously ineffective
Kind of disappointing. Pretty obvious "ugly duckling becomes beautiful dancing swan" plot and stereotype characters (simplistic Chinese immigrants, semi-slutty, neurotic, but super nice and supportive ballroom dancers). What started out as an obvious story told in a sweet way became just an obvious story told without a lot of grace. Writing was decent but the characters and story were just too simplistic for me.
There were some very nice Lao Tzu quotes, description of Tai Chi and Qigong, and descriptions of ballroom dancing in the first half. And I did enjoy the characters at the beginning when they had more individuality and less stereotype to them. Somehow it feels as though the second half was written more hurriedly and more focused on plot and less on the character and environment that made the first half so enjoyable.
on her experience mingled with fiction. MAMBO is also riveting, because the
author worked as a ballroom dancer while putting her self through college.
I'd read anything by this author and would like to see third novel even broader
in scope, more dramatic and poignant. Bravo!
Other reviewers do a better job of giving a synopsis of the storyline. I'm just going to tell you flat out - read this book! I almost hesitated in 'sampling' this book. I'm glad I didn't. It's one of the best books I've read in a while. Ms. Kwok shouldn't wait so long between her books - she has a gift that needs to be shared.