Reviewlets - International Edition [The Case of the Love Commandos; Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter; The Last Chinese Chef]
I’ve read very few books set in India. Honestly, I can only think of one other, which I read for a high school assignment. I don’t remember much about that one (not even the title), but I do remember it was not a particularly cheerful book (there’s nothing wrong with that). But I also don’t remember anything it taught me about life in India. In contrast, The Case of the Love Commandos taught me a lot about life in India. And it did so in a subtle way. The difficulties of taking a train are just woven into the story. The caste system provides the impetus of the plot. This was a light-hearted mystery with plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing. But it was more than that for me. It was a glimpse into a culture that is very different from mine. And it was a glimpse I’ll gladly turn back to again when I read the rest of Tarquin Hall’s novels.
This was one of those books I picked up because of a reading challenge. I needed a book set in South America, and this one fulfilled that, being set in Peru. It’s semi-autobiographical (I did a little research after reading to confirm this), and it tells the story of 18-year-old Mario in his quest to become a writer. Along the way, he falls in love with his uncle’s wife’s sister (so she’s only an aunt in name). And he becomes friends with a radio soap opera scriptwriter, who is slowly going insane. Chapters alternate between Mario’s story and the soap opera scripts. Sometimes it was the scripts that kept me reading, sometimes it was Mario’s story. One or the other held my interest until the end (which is a satisfying ending, if you completely discount the last chapter). 1950s Peru is not a time or place I have a whole lot of familiarity with, but Llosa recreated that atmosphere admirably well. I’m glad I visited that world for awhile.
I’ve said this before in a review (probably more than once), and I’ll say it again here – I love learning about another culture through fiction. And The Last Chinese Chef is the perfect example of that. Maggie McElroy travels to China for two reasons. Her husband died in an accident a year ago, and out of the blue someone is making a custody claim in China. While she is there (since she’s a travel and food writer), she is assigned to write a piece on an up-and-coming chef who is cooking traditional Chinese dishes. The story and the characters draw you in from the beginning. You are immediately comfortable with Maggie and Sam, the Chinese-American chef. But honestly, that’s not why I loved this book. I loved it for the descriptions of food, the processes of cooking, the traditions that surround thousands of years of Chinese cuisine, and the look into past and present life in China. I feel as if I’ve learned as much about Chinese cooking as I would have if I had read a nonfiction book on the same subject. And it’s not done in a textbook-y sort of way. It is woven so seemlessly into the story that you don’t even realize that you are learning at all. Nicole Mones has written a book that will appeal to and intrigue many different readers.
My name is Julie, and I own a lot of books. As in, they are stacked on the floor because I've run out of room on the shelves. And those shelves? There are so many books on them that they smile -- not sag; smile. This blog will cover book reviews and all manner of other bookish things.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.