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Kitchen Chinese, Ann Mah

2010/05/10

After being fired from her job as a fact checker at Belle magazine, twenty-something Isabelle Lee decides to go abroad to Beijing to visit her sister. Born and raised in the United States, Isabelle worries about being launched into an “Amy Tan novel” and having “some enormous ethnic epiphany.” As she stumbles through the language barrier and Beijing society, Isabelle finds herself working at BEIJING Now, an English magazine, and writing food reviews in a country where she can’t even order food properly. Geraldine, a redhead columnist with six years of Beijing under her belt, befriends Isabelle and guides her through restaurants, awkward social situations, and the occasional party. Isabelle also finds herself tugged in two directions by Jeff Zhu, a charming aspiring pop star with a zealous ex, and Charlie Eliot, an attractive young American working for the embassy.

As Isabelle navigates through Beijing, the reader experiences the gritty, glamorous, and bewildering city first hand through Isabelle’s observant and descriptive prose. Chick lit fans and those interested in other cultures will enjoy this novel, though some may find the romance a bit trite and predictable. Still, Mah writes an excellent addition to the voice of Asian American women in contemporary fiction. Those familiar with Asian American literature may recognize Mah’s mother, Adeline Yeh Mah, as the author of “Falling Leaves,” and “Chinese Cinderella.”

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