Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune
Author: Roselle Lim
Publication Date: 11 June 2019
Genre: Adult Fiction – Contemporary Fiction/Romance
At the news of her mother’s death, Natalie Tan returns home. The two women hadn’t spoken since Natalie left in anger seven years ago, when her mother refused to support her chosen career as a chef. Natalie is shocked to discover the vibrant neighborhood of San Francisco’s Chinatown that she remembers from her childhood is fading, with businesses failing and families moving out. She’s even more surprised to learn she has inherited her grandmother’s restaurant.
The neighborhood seer reads the restaurant’s fortune in the leaves: Natalie must cook three recipes from her grandmother’s cookbook to aid her struggling neighbors before the restaurant will succeed. Unfortunately, Natalie has no desire to help them try to turn things around–she resents the local shopkeepers for leaving her alone to take care of her agoraphobic mother when she was growing up. But with the support of a surprising new friend and a budding romance, Natalie starts to realize that maybe her neighbors really have been there for her all along.
My heart is still bursting at the seams after reading this incredible debut novel by Roselle Lim. I started this book yesterday morning and finished it in the same day. I even worked yesterday, but I keep stealing moments to get more of this delicious story. I just couldn’t put this book down.
Natalie Tan is a 28 year old Chinese-American woman who was born and raised the Chinatown district of San Francisco. She left in hopes to pursue her dreams of attending culinary school, but after failing out her first year, she wandered the world for seven years getting any culinary experience that she could. During this time, Natalie didn’t speak to her mother Miranda for fear of proving her mother right about failing to become a chef and owning her own restaurant. However, everything changes overnight when Natalie gets the call from Celia (Miranda’s best friend) that her mother has died. She immediately leaves and returns home.
Much to Natalie’s dismay, she returns to her old neighborhood, which is on the brink of collapse. Families are moving out and the local businesses that she grew up with are failing. Not to mention, Natalie is apprehensive about embracing the community that turned their back on her agoraphobic mother and allowing her to die alone.
Initially, Natalie keeps her distance from the neighbors, but once she learns that she has inherited her grandmother’s restaurant and has the chance to make a difference in her neighborhood, she rethinks the community surrounding her. Before Natalie can officially open up her restaurant, she must fulfill a prophecy: cook three dishes for three neighbors that need the most help.
At first things seem to be going incredibly well for Natalie as she uses her laolao’s (grandmother) recipes to help Old Shen be more confident, mend the Chius marriage, and give Celia some much needed luck, but of course, everything ends up backfiring. Natalie second guesses her ability to hone laolao’s magical recipes, and must find the source of problem before her community collapses around her.
I loved watching Natalie open up and interact with her surrounding neighbors as she began to immerse herself into the community. Of all of the characters in the book, Celia was definitely one of my favorites. Celia was so incredibly supportive and loving to Natalie even when Natalie wasn’t receptive to her help. Celia was patient and allowed Natalie to come to her when she was ready rather than force an unwanted friendship. Watching these two bond over laolao’s recipes was magical.
The food in this book was incredible. I think all of us have experienced at some point in time the magic that comes from an amazing meal that is shared with loved ones, and that is exactly what this book reinforces. One of my favorite recipes in the book was the spring rolls because they promote harmony and togetherness. Growing up, one of the biggest treats in my house was always egg rolls. Whenever my mom said we were having egg rolls for dinner, my sister and I would stop whatever racket we were causing and come together to indulge in their comforting goodness. It was a memory I didn’t even realize was that important until I was reading this book.
Overall, if you love contemporary fiction that focuses on friendships, community, love, food, and bits of magical realism then read this book. You’ll be rooting for Natalie and the rest of the community throughout this story, and I daresay these characters will leave a mark on your heart. This story may even make you nostalgic for those warm memories of magical meals that you once shared.
Thank you to Berkley and Edelweiss for providing an eARC. This did not influence my review. All opinions are my own.
Pre-order your copy of Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune here.