Synopses & Reviews
Spanning almost a hundred years, this rich and evocative memoir recounts the lives of three generations of remarkable Chinese women.
Their extraordinary journey takes us from the brutal poverty of village life in mainland China, to newly prosperous 1930s Hong Kong and finally to the UK. Their lives were as dramatic as the times they lived through.
A love of food and a talent for cooking pulled each generation through the most devastating of upheavals. Helen Tse's grandmother, Lily Kwok, was forced to work as an amah after the violent murder of her father. Crossing the ocean from Hong Kong in the 1950s, Lily honed her famous chicken curry recipe. Eventually she opened one of Manchester's earliest Chinese restaurants where her daughter, Mabel, worked from the tender age of nine. But gambling and the Triads were pervasive in the Chinese immigrant community, and tragically they lost the restaurant. It was up to author Helen and her sisters, the third generation of these exceptional women, to re-establish their grandmother's dream. The legacy lived on when the sisters opened their award-winning restaurant Sweet Mandarin in 2004.
Sweet Mandarin shows how the most important inheritance is wisdom, and how recipes--passed down the female line--can be the most valuable heirloom.
"For Tse, looking ahead to her future meant taking a step back into family history. In 2004, Tse and her two sisters all abandoned promising professional careers to follow a family tradition and opened a family restaurant. 'My sisters and I were immersed from birth in the Chinese catering business the fourth generation of our family to make a living from food.' Tse begins with her grandmother's birth in 1918 in a small farming village in southeastern China. Each successive chapter chronologically follows the family's struggles and triumphs from peasant life to prosperity and heartache in Hong Kong in the 1930s, the horrors of the Japanese occupation, life in England from the 1950s to today. Tse poses a question that serves as the core of this delightful, well-written and at times painful memoir: Why would three young, successful 21st-century women, Tse an attorney, one sister an engineer, the other a financier, return to a family business they struggled to escape? In answering this question, Tse engagingly tells the larger story not only of her grandmother's and mother's struggles but the shared story of the many Chinese immigrants who made the journey from mainland China to England and 'who also carved out a place in their new homeland through the catering trade.' (July)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
PRAISE FOR SWEET MANDARIN:
"Sweet Mandarin is a banquet of family stories… a memoir of survival and victories, luck and determination." - Amy Tan, bestselling author of The Joy Luck Club
"Read this book. It is the story of an amazing family and their sweet and sour, hot and bitter lives."
--Xinran, author of The Good Women of China
"An amazing story."
--Manchester Evening News
About the Author
HELEN TSE grew up in Manchester, UK. She studied law at Cambridge University and went on to work as a finance lawyer in London, Hong Kong, and Manchester. She opened the restaurant Sweet Mandarin with her two sisters, Lisa and Janet, in 2004, following the culinary footsteps of her mother and grandmother. Helen Tse is the first British born Chinese author and SWEET MANDARIN is her debut.
Reading Group Guide
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS 1. Throughout Sweet Mandarin, the story of the old man and the mountains being leveled re-emerges. Why is this story used and how is it relevant to Helen and her family? 2. Does Lilys father, Leung, seem to behave as a typical Chinese father of his time? Do you think some of his beliefs and values are embodied by Helen and her siblings? If so, which ones and how? 3. How do you think Lily was influenced by the events of her early life? Her fathers success, the move to Hong Kong and then the loss of her father? 4. Lily feels she has no option but to let her daughter, Ah Bing, be raised in another family. How do you think they both wound up dealing with the separation? Can you think of similar situations in contemporary American culture? 5. How would you compare and contrast the kinds of challenges faced by Lily, Mabel and Helen, each in their own time? How does the changing landscape affect the characters? 6. Tradition plays an important role in Chinese culture. How do you think the author feels about tradition and what or who do you think may have influenced her perspective? 7. How do you feel about the amount of work in the restaurant which was required of Helen and her siblings as they were growing up? Would you be willing to work with your own family in such a way? Why or why not? 8. What kind of role does food seem to play in Helens family? What other kinds of thing might be passed down in a family, the way that recipes are handed down in hers? 9. Helen had to piece some of her familys story for herself, getting information from different sources, sometimes unable to get the answers from family members involved. Was the communication in her family influenced culturally, or is this a typical family issue? Why do you think she felt such a strong need to know? 10. How does the author seem to feel about modern day China?