When I first picked up this book, I thought I was picking up a romance. I think being published by Berkley always has that reflex of assuming the novel is a romance. While it’s not entirely a romance with two protagonists that fall in love, it is a book about love. It’s about the love you have for your family, for your neighborhood, for your roots, and for food.
Natalie Tan just found out her mother died, but as an intense agoraphobic, she hasn’t left her house in years. It’s funny how the woman who’s never left her house suddenly dies on the first day out. Natalie’s been away for seven years and in that time sharpening her culinary skills in kitchens around the world.
Now she’s back in her little apartment home above the Chinese restaurant her family used to own in the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown. But things aren’t the way they used to be as her neighbor’s businesses slowly shutter. With the growing tech scene in San Francisco, smaller neighborhoods begin to experience gentrification. It’s great for the city, but bad for the hardworking folks who’ve lived in the area for generations.
Natalie decides in order to revive the neighborhood she’ll reopen her grandmother’s restaurant and hopefully bring more life back to her little street. Before opening, she’s met with the local tea shop owner (and mystic) who prophecies that Natalie will need to help three of her neighbors before she can open her restaurant. She’s handed a book of her grandmother’s recipes guaranteed to help anyone with any life issues they may be facing.
So Natalie goes to work to help three of her neighbors using recipes from her grandmother’s cookbook. As things seem to be going well, it turns out the recipes aren’t and the magic in her grandmother’s cookbook isn’t as powerful as she thought. Natalie now must figure out what’s going on with the cookbook, continue to go through the process of opening her restaurant, and discovers some secrets her family’s kept from her for all these years.
Ok, I’m going to gush about this book. I gave it five stars I liked this book so much. The themes in this novel are most definitely the draws.
First off, food. Food is the big theme of this novel and also comes along with a few recipes from Natalie’s grandmother’s cookbook. Honestly, the food part reminded me so much of Chocolat. With food and magic intertwined, you see how what Natalie makes is not only delicious, but powerful. If you’re a food person, you’re most definitely going to enjoy this book.
The second theme, family. I think family is probably the most important theme next to the food. While Natalie and her mother didn’t have much beyond the two of them, it’s obvious throughout the novel that the neighbors on her street care and can be considered family. I think this is the reason why it was so important for Natalie to reopen the restaurant. She wanted something that people can come to and enjoy and facilitate its customers to go out and explore the rest of the street.
The family theme plays such a different role when it comes to the discovery of Natalie’s father. It’s a question you have stuck in your head the entire time you’re reading and Roselle does an excellent job covering all her bases.
The third theme, gentrification. Over the last seven years I lived in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. If you weren’t aware, Greenpoint used to be known as “Little Poland” where the highest percentage of Polish immigrants were living in and around the area. When I first moved to Greenpoint, it was so obvious the Polish community ran things. All the restaurants and shopping had Polish-speaking employees. The food was always top notch. And kids would drive down the street blasting Polish electronic music every time their national soccer team played in the World Cup. It was a different world in the middle of a huge city.
However, over time, gentrification took over making room for skyscraper housing projects and buying out the Polish owners one by one. I saw this beautiful little neighborhood turn from “Little Poland” to one of the most coveted neighborhoods to live in. It’s great for the community, but bad for the folks who have lived here for generations.
This is what I thought of as I read this book and thought about the gentrification efforts in her neighborhood. It’s a difficult place to be because on one hand you want to welcome more businesses and folks to a neighborhood who may need a little financial help. At the same time, it’s displacing so many people who have called the neighborhood home. I can imagine the kind of fight Natalie was in for as she tried to revitalize her neighborhood with the help of her neighbors.
The last thing I want to mention is that this book does talk about grief and loss, but it’s not as devastating as I’ve read it in other books. For Natalie, the death of her mother is sad but also hopeful. At first, she saw herself free from her mother’s opinions especially when it comes to opening a restaurant. But as the book progresses, you see that she learns a lot about her mother and what she left behind in order to raise her. It makes the story way more hopeful than just a story of grief. Natalie openly celebrates her mother and her grandmother through the joyful process of cooking.
- 5/5 Stars
- Find my review on Goodreads
- Find Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim on Amazon\
I received a copy of this book from Berkley for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.