In the world of Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune, a flock of ceramic bird figurines bursts into song; harsh words draw real blood; and tears crystallize, forming glittering piles, proving that “there was beauty to be found everywhere—even in sadness.” There’s more than a little magic in the San Francisco Chinatown setting of Roselle Lim’s novel. (As someone who lives in the area, perhaps the only thing that I totally couldn’t buy was the delicious smell of dumplings carrying all the way from Chinatown to the Mission; I only wish SOMA and the Tenderloin smelled that good.)
Natalie has been estranged from her agoraphobic mother for seven years, traveling the world and trying to pursue her dream of becoming a chef. Her mother had refused to support that dream, leading to their split. Natalie returns to Chinatown after her mother’s death—oddly, she died right after stepping outside for the first time in ages, and none of her friends and neighbors know why she finally chose to leave her apartment.
One of the things Natalie inherits is her laolao’s (grandmother) book of recipes, which seem to have mystical properties. Natalie wonders if she can bring the fractured, decaying neighborhood together again with her food, perhaps even opening the long-abandoned, decrepit restaurant where her laolao once cooked.
Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune has a wonderfully vivid Chinatown setting and lots of descriptions of food that will surely make your mouth water. I did find some of the plot twists a little too convenient (for instance, the discovery of her mother’s journals which pretty much answer every question Natalie had ever had), but overall, this is a fresh and fanciful novel, as long as you have an appetite for a few spoonfuls of magical realism.
Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune will be published on June 11, 2019. Thanks to Berkley Books for the advance copy (via NetGalley).