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9780547053738

The Last Chinese Chef

Mones, Nicole

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This alluring novel of friendship, love, and cuisine brings the best-selling author of Lost in Translation and A Cup of Light to one of the great Chinese subjects: food. As in her previous novels, Mones’s captivating story also brings into focus a changing China -- this time the hidden world of high culinary culture.

When Maggie McElroy, a widowed American food writer, learns of a Chinese paternity claim against her late husband’s estate, she has to go immediately to Beijing. She asks her magazine for time off, but her editor counters with an assignment: to profile the rising culinary star Sam Liang.

In China Maggie unties the knots of her husband’s past, finding out more than she expected about him and about herself. With Sam as her guide, she is also drawn deep into a world of food rooted in centuries of history and philosophy. To her surprise she begins to be transformed by the cuisine, by Sam’s family -- a querulous but loving pack of cooks and diners -- and most of all by Sam himself. The Last Chinese Chef is the exhilarating story of a woman regaining her soul in the most unexpected of places.

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Review:

Nicole Mones has mined the endless riches of China once again in The Last Chinese Chef. This time she hits the trifecta: the personal stories of Sam and Maggie, the history and lore of Chinese cuisine, and an inside look at cultural dislocation. Maggie McElroy is a widowed American food writer who is suddenly confronted with a paternity claim against her late husband's estate--by a Chinese family. Her editor offers her another reason to go to Beijing: write an article about a rising young Chinese-American-Jewish chef, Sam Liang. Having sold the home she had with her late husband Matt and reduced her possessions to only the barest necessities, with her life feeling as though it is contracting around her, Maggie embraces the oppportunity to sort out her feelings about Matt's supposed infidelity and do some work at the same time.

She and Sam hit it off right away, even though he is involved in a very important competition for a place on the Chinese national cooking team for the 2008 Olympics. They travel together to the south of China where she meets her husband's possible daughter--with Sam standing by to act as translator--and where Maggie meets much of Sam's family. He has been welcomed back with open arms, even though he occasionally feels that he has one foot in China and one in Ohio. The Beijing uncles and the Hangzhou uncle are a raucous, loving, argumentative bunch of foodies who advise Sam about menus, encourage a romance with Maggie, make him start over again when the dish isn't perfect, and alternately praise and criticize his cooking.

Maggie loves being in the middle of it all and finds herself more and more drawn to Sam. She begins, with Sam's help, to see food as "healing" and understands the guanxi or "connectedness" that takes place around food. At the beginning of each chapter is a paragraph taken from a book entitled The Last Chinese Chef, written by Sam's grandfather and translated by Sam and his father. Mones has written that book, too, which is an explanation of the place of food in Chinese history and family life. The novel is rich with meaning and lore and an examination of loving relationships. Don't even touch this book when you're hungry. The descriptions make the aromas and textures float right off the page. --Valerie Ryan

About the Author:

Nicole Mones is the prizewinning author of three previous novels, The Last Chinese Chef, Lost in Translation, and A Cup of Light, which are published in more than twenty-five countries.

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