"The Last Chinese Chef"
(Reviewed by Kirstin Merrihew JUN 17, 2008)
Nicole Mones delivers a languid, sumptuous story about an American widow, Maggie McElroy, who journeys to China to find out whether a child born there to another woman was fathered by her late husband. She also has an assignment to write an article on a Chinese/Jewish-American chef, Sam Liang, who is descended from a line of venerable masters of cuisine and to whom Maggie gradually, sweetly grows close.
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.
- Amazon readers rating: from 31 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Last Chinese Chef at Houghton Mifflin
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
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- Official website for Nicole Mones
- California Literary Review interview with Nicole Mones
- Super Chef interview with Nicole Mones
- Chapter excerpt from Lost in Translation
- The Mystery Reaser review of Lost in Translation
- Chapter excerpt from A Cup of Light
- BookPage review of A Cup of Light
- The New York Times review of The Last Chinese Chef
- Paper Palate review of The Last Chinese Chef
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About the Author:
Nicole Mones in 1977, six days after the end of the Cultural Revolution, Nicole started a textile business in China and ran it for eighteen years, building relationships and learning about China, before she turned to writing. She writes fiction with in-depth understanding of China and its culture.
Since 1999, Mones is a frequent contributor to Gourmet magazine, covering the food scenes in cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Yunnan Province, and the San Gabriel Valley east of Los Angeles. Gourmet magazine ran an excerpt of The Last Chinese Chef—marking the first time Gourmet has ever published fiction in its pages. Her work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times (op-ed pages) , the Washington Post (book review), the New York Times Magazine, and L'Uomo Vogue (Italy).
She lives in Portland, Oregon.