Sweet Mandarin: The Courageous True Story of Three Generations of Chinese Women and Their Journey from East to West

Sweet Mandarin: The Courageous True Story of Three Generations of Chinese Women and Their Journey from East to West

by Helen Tse
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Sweet Mandarin: The Courageous True Story of Three Generations of Chinese Women and Their Journey from East to West by Helen Tse

Spanning almost a hundred years, this rich and evocative memoir recounts the lives of three generations of remarkable Chinese women.

Their extraordinary journey takes us from the brutal poverty of village life in mainland China, to newly prosperous 1930s Hong Kong and finally to the UK. Their lives were as dramatic as the times they lived through.

A love of food and a talent for cooking pulled each generation through the most devastating of upheavals. Helen Tse's grandmother, Lily Kwok, was forced to work as an amah after the violent murder of her father. Crossing the ocean from Hong Kong in the 1950s, Lily honed her famous chicken curry recipe. Eventually she opened one of Manchester's earliest Chinese restaurants where her daughter, Mabel, worked from the tender age of nine. But gambling and the Triads were pervasive in the Chinese immigrant community, and tragically they lost the restaurant. It was up to author Helen and her sisters, the third generation of these exceptional women, to re-establish their grandmother's dream. The legacy lived on when the sisters opened their award-winning restaurant Sweet Mandarin in 2004.

Sweet Mandarin shows how the most important inheritance is wisdom, and how recipes--passed down the female line--can be the most valuable heirloom.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312379360
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 07/08/2008
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.68(w) x 10.92(h) x 0.98(d)

About the Author

HELEN TSE grew up in Manchester, UK. She studied law at Cambridge University and went on to work as a finance lawyer in London, Hong Kong, and Manchester. She opened the restaurant Sweet Mandarin with her two sisters, Lisa and Janet, in 2004, following the culinary footsteps of her mother and grandmother. Helen Tse is the first British born Chinese author and SWEET MANDARIN is her debut.

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Sweet Mandarin: The Courageous True Story of Three Generations of Chinese Women and Their Journey from East to West 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
chris3177 More than 1 year ago
I normally don't read biographies (or any nonfiction really), but this book caught my attention... both because I am half chinese and because it was in the "discover new writers" category. I am so glad i step outside of my "comfort zone" and read this book. It is a terrific story and I'm grateful that Helen Tse shared it with us. This is definitely a book I will be sharing with others.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
For Lily Kwok the world did not seem to offer much hope. In addition to being a female in a male-dominated society, she was also born into a severely poverty stricken village in rural China. In 1918, there didn't seem to be much of a chance for a different life. SWEET MANDARIN is the story of how three generations of women, beginning with Lily, made their way out of the oppressive confines of culture and poverty to become successful businesswomen in their own right.

Lily was born in a small farming village near Guangzhou. She had one thing that many other young girls of the time didn't-- a father who cherished his daughters. He also had the desire to provide a better life for his family and set about to improve their lives by making and selling soy sauce. While Leung was very successful, he also drew the envy of others in his village. Before he had the opportunity to secure a completely comfortable life for his family, Leung was murdered, leaving his wife and daughters to the mercy of family.

Lily worked hard to help provide for her mother, sisters, and eventually her own husband and children. Through a twist of fate, Lily had the chance to make a difficult choice for her family. She would follow her employer to England, and be away from her children, in order to secure them a better future in the West.

When Mabel and her brother, Arthur, finally joined their mother, Lily, in England, they were strangers to both the country and their own mother. Lily opened a take-out restaurant in Manchester. Not only were they the only Chinese family in the neighborhood, they also offered a service that nobody else did-- a fast, affordable, and tasty meal that could be taken home to the family. The work was hard and the hours long and Mabel learned the skills and recipes that she would one day pass on to her own daughters.

Helen and her sisters grew up under the wings of both Lily and their mother, Mabel. The two generations of women that preceded them gave them opportunities that a young Lily may have only dreamed of. Helen grew up to go to an ivy-league school and become a lawyer, and her sisters shared similar successes. But they found that their heritage called to them and they opened Sweet Mandarin, a restaurant that serves the recipes that guided the lives of all three generations of successful, Chinese women.

SWEET MANDARIN is an inspirational account that proves that even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles like poverty, murder, addiction, and oppression, if you have the determination, you can achieve your dreams.
searchmc More than 1 year ago
As a Chinese decendent, I find the story compelling. There is a quote ¿No man is an Island¿. But a man with no past, has no future. He is an island in time. One should learn some family history. Without knowing where one is coming from, you will never know where you going to.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book was very inspirational and reflect what it means to work hard in life. I loved the book and would certainly recommend it to anyone. The book also gives you an insight on Chinese and British culture. It also is interesting due to the history involved.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What a delightful read!! I really enjoyed every second of this book because I was rivetted from page one till the end. The author, Helen Tse traces the trajectory of her family's journey from mainland China to Hong Kong till their eventual decision to make Manchester, UK their permanent home. Ms. Tse is obviously proud of her family, particularly the women, and she is right in that emotion. The story is mainly about her grandmother Lily but through the unfolding of Lily's tale, we get to know the rest of the family. You learn of the struggles of her great grandfather who started a successful soy sauce business only to have his life cut short by jealousy and evil minded people. We see her grandmother forced to begin working in the houses of the wealthy as a way to support her family on the death of her father. But Ms. Tse does not dwell on the bad things that happened to her family, infact she tells them as if she is just passing on information. She focuses more on the many great things and wonderful people who encouraged, befriended or offered financial help when different members of the family went through hard times. I was also impressed with Ms. Tse's ability to convey the shortcomings/failings of her parents/grandparents in a respectful manner that still honored them. She does not pretend that her family members are saints but shows their frailties. This is a celebration of women, minorities, immigrants, the power of hardwork and determination, the ability to recover from mistakes (yours and that of those you love) and the power of food to unite. A must read!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sweet Mandarin is the story of third generation Chinese-American women. To avoid following the family tradition of catering and food service, Helen and her sisters take up professional careers. Nevertheless, the family legacy calls to them. Eventually they embrace their family legacy, they come to terms with the past, and they come to cherish their culture. The sisters open a Chinese restaurant, Sweet Mandarin. Helen Tse cleverly demonstrates the hardships of the Chinese. She discusses the strong culture. Tse writing style is conversational. The author has a natural talent for storytelling. The culture and history of the Chinese are skillfully woven into an unforgettable story that will not be long forgotten. My major criticism with this book is the editing. I found numerous grammatical mistakes throughout the book. I admit this is a pet peeve of mine. It prevented me from giving this book a higher score. However, the book is interesting and Tse will take the reader on a fascinating journey through historical China.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a member of the National Association of Asian American Professionals (NAAAP) and would highly recommend this book to all Asian Americans or Asians worldwide. Why? Because its a book that is at the core of what we Asian Americans are about - its a book about identity, about having a voice and the importance of our rights - its a tribute to our families who have sacrificed much for our success today. Helen Tse's debut book is memorable and has passages so powerful and beautiful they make your heart beat faster. Its quite simply a masterpiece.
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SarahHulse More than 1 year ago
We had been told of this book by one of the members of our bookclub and it immediately appealed to me because I've always wanted to visit Hong Kong. I opened this book I could not put it down. I was in tears when Lily left Hong Kong and again later on in the story in Manchester when she lost herself and her lifeline. This is a story that will appeal to all immigrants who have struggled and overcome adversity. After reading this book, our club was unanimous that we would one day go to the restaurant in Manchester and hopefully meet the family. Its a real story that has changed my life and made me know that no matter how hard life gets I'll get through this stronger, and a better person.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this little book about 3 generations of proud Chinese women and their trials in the journey from Guangzhou on mainland China, to British Hong Kong to Great Britain. All of the women in the book have great dignity and a a staggering work effort. Beautifully told story. I would be interested in learning more about this family.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Having met Helen Tse, I found her to be extremely entertaining as she talked to our bookclub about her book, Sweet Mandarin. Funnily enough, as I read it, I could hear Helen speak and could picture her talking, shopping, and doing all the things she talked about in the book. What really struck me was that despite all the things that have happened in her family's life (and they were huge incidents e.g. murder, bankruptcy, adoption, the isolation of being the only Chinese family in the entire town) Helen still can smile, joke with the audience and take things in her stride. Indeed that humor does come through in her book - which is beautifully written. Having met Helen, this book has become my favorite book. We read this book as part of the bookclub and my fellow members were in consent - Sweet Mandarin is well written, gripping (in the sense that you have to block out two days and not sleep) and brought tears to my eyes. Afterwards, I was hungry (the book's descriptions about food were vivid) and longed to have know my own mother's life. It raised a simple yet compelling question. What are your roots? Its a book that all Americans should read and embrace - because without knowing or appreciating one's roots, we cannot move forward.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sweet Mandarin, a memoir by Helen Tse, just shows how a book can take you into another life, another world and the minute I opened Sweet Mandarin I was gripped. Named after their restaurant in Manchester, England this book is a tribute to the author's grandmother - a matriarch and absolutely incredible woman. The family have always been in the food business, beginning with her great grandfather¿s soy sauce business through to restaurants and take-aways. This book shows that despite different cultures, through food there is a universal language and understanding. Indeed the lifeline of this family was food. Although the cover says about three generations of Chinese women this story really is a testimony of the life of the author's grandmother, Lily Kwok. Born in a tiny primitive village in China to a family with no surviving sons and six daughters in a country where women have no status ¿ legal or otherwise, Lily is determined not only to survive but to change and improve her life and the lives of her children. I would love to meet Lily....she's one of those women who make you want to do better, try harder, and never give up. Her courage and determination is to be commended and her decisions she took in life were heartbreaking and reduced me to tears. In particular, her life in China and in Hong Kong during the Japanese occupation during WWII is riveting. The cultural shock suffered when Lily comes to England brought to mind Amy Tan¿s Joy Luck Club. Sweet Mandarin is an intimate, easy to read, cannot-put-down-book. It took me to a different difficult world and I am thankful for my life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought Sweet Mandarin was an excellent book. I could not put it down and was hooked for two days - wanting to know what happened to this family. Its an inspirational story, not too dissimilar to the American Dream and what people strive to achieve on a daily basis. Helen writes very well, in an easy to read style that is packed with visual images that linger after you close the book. I would highly recommend Sweet Mandarin. In fact, I think it would made an excellent movie similar to the breathtaking visual effects of Memoirs of a Geisha. This is also an important book from a historical perspective - and covers a period and part of history that has rarely been touched. I think it is important to understand different cultures - and this book comes at a time when people are and should be receptive to new worlds. In fact, the Kite Runner's success is because not only is it a great movie well done, but it opens a world that many of us have never travelled to before. Sweet Mandarin will be the next Kite Runner.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The first thing that struck me was the absolutely gorgeous cover of Sweet Mandarin. I usually pick up anything with an Oriental theme - I especially loved Joy Luck Club even to today - well let me add Sweet Mandarin to that list. This was an exceptional book, written from the heart and if I may say so, a real Joy Luck Club. You need to read this book and if you don't feel for this family, these women, then personally, you are not human. I loved reviewing this book for my book club - and its my pleasure to recommend it to you. The minute you open this book, you are tranasported to 1900 China in the paddy fields with the cows. Imagine running from those fields towards the heavenly smelts that whaft through the mud huts and to the river. Its dinner time. The Chinese have always been famous for their ability to eat anything with its back to the Heavens, except the tables and chairs. Throughout this book, food plays an important part - its the lifeline of a family - who for the past 100 years have been anonymous to the world. However, this book will spotlight the family to dizzying heights. Lily Kwok, the author's grandma, kicked so hard in the womb, the midwife thought she would be a boy, that strength, energy and independence stayed with her all her life. She definitely need those qualitifes, with the life handed to her - she endured wars, a murder, giving away her baby, immigration and servitutde. The next generation, Mabel (author's mother) has that awkward transition that America faced in the 1950s post war - and it struck me particularly, as I am probably about the same age as Mabel. I cried for Mabel as she carried her babies in those dire strait times. I cried tears of happiness, when the author described her graduation - in honour of her mother. Then, onto the author herself. She is the voice of her and her two sisters, and they have also set up a restaurant. She is a remarkable woman, and has got a great sense of humor, and is an excellent writer. This book is written in a very easy to read manner, the perfect style because the story speaks for itself. Read this book, its a real life Joy Luck Club and endorsed by no-one other than the incredible and awesome Amy Tan.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm in Year 9 and loved reading Sweet Mandarin. Helen came to my school and she was so funny and signed my book. Its about her family and her grandma in particular. It such a great story and I was crying when her grandma had to go to England. The teacher set homework based on Sweet Mandarin - Tell me About Your Roots....and it gave me a chance to speak to my grandma about her life and how my mom and dad met. I think Sweet Mandarin is brilliant. Thanks Helen, for writing about your roots and inspiring our class. Tammy John Gray High
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book in one day. It was a real page turner. I couldn't put it down until I found out what happened in the end. I loved it and will be recommending this to my book club. I googled this book and Helen and found videos of Helen speaking about her book. Helen speaks eloquently and has that same sense of humour that is portrayed in the book. Its an excellent first book and I look forward to following the progress of this author. What is probably most commendable is that Helen does a lot of charitable work with schools and universities to improve literacy and the focus on East Asian / Chinese studies. That is fantastic - keep up the good work and good luck with this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Helen Tse's SWEET MANDARIN accomplishes many things. She has written a warts and all, honest memoir of taboo topics that many Chinese families would prevent at all costs being aired in public especially gambling, adoption, failed marriages and losing one's business. In addition, she provides a colorful and lively description of the customs, history and social upheaval of China from the 1920s - 1990s. There is tragedy and this is compounded by the cruelty of their relatives - which leads Lily (the author's grandmother and the main character of the book) to go out to work as an amah or maid. You really feel for Lily - she is manipulated her husband. She was verbally and physically abused by her gambling, drunk husband who was out of control - and this is an example of the concept of marriage through the eyes of the Chinese of that era. When she is shipped to England to work as a maid, she pines desperately for children. Imagine leaving your own children to look after someone else's children - that must have been desperation. Helen Tse's is the narrator and she touches upon her story growing up poor of an immigrant family above the top of a Chinese take out but despite all odds, she graduates from Cambridge University and becomes an attorney. That's remarkable and I take my hat off to her - I'm an attorney and her experience was at the top law firm in the world - so she sounds like a multi-talented woman. Helen writes beautifully and brings alive her family recounting the tales of deep sorrow that must have wounded her grandmother and mother and her greatly. They are relayed at times with some humor, which deflects the real pain she must have felt herself. She makes the streets of China, Hong Kong and Manchester come alive with her vivid descriptions of the sights and sounds. Sweet Mandarin is an intensely psychological and personal memoir. It must have been difficult for Helen Tse to bare her family's soul as she did. The result is an unforgettable story of three generations of strong Chinese women and their courageous story to survive despite all odds. It sounds like something out of Hollywood and it would not surprise me if it were made into a movie. I would love to see this book on the silver screen. Its an awesome read that I would recommend to all.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I run a book club and we chose this book for our March read. It was a great choice and we absolutely fell in love with this book. This book is about a family who runs a Chinese restaurant in the UK called Sweet Mandarin and the history behind this establishment. I was gripped and amazed by this book - the pace was good, the writing flowed and the story was just incredible. After reading it, you will feel the same way and it makes for a great discussion. Its about a gran-mum-daughter relationship with culture clash all mixed in Definitely very insightful for this day and age. It was terribly sad at one point. I think a dozen of us were just so moved by that chapter when Lily left Hong Kong that we were teary eyed as we spoke - a first for our bookclub. This book is unbelievable, because it spoke to me, about my heritage, about my relationship with my mother. Its also all about women, and given that the entire book club is made up of women, we had a lot more to add to this book, that say a John Steinbeck book. I think this book is really fabulous and Helen Tse is a really great writer because of her writing skills which really draws you into a different world which made this book a must read for me. I could relate to it and I know it will hit a chord with other readers and especially book clubs. This is a great book, and I would highly recommend it. Let me know what you think after you have finished it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found myself hooked on this book for the 2 days it took me to devour it. I was on this emotional rollercoaster with this amazing family. I found Helen Tse to be an excellent narrator - a very easy reading style and fluent. I was rooting for Lily Kwok the grandma and heroine throughout the book. I think she is an amazing woman. It talked about adoption. I was adopted and I was an emotional wreck at the end of the book. I don't want to give away the ending but I could relate totally to this book - forgiveness and guilt over adoption are things I'm still trying to grapple with. This book helped me and gave me much comfort in this regard. Its a universal story, but I'm sure if you are Chinese you would appreciate the nuances of the book more. I would highly recommend it. The images are still haunting me now.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved Sweet Mandarin and would highly recommend it. Its such a refreshing book and what a wonderful message this books gives. Despite all the hardships of Lily Kwok and the family, I liked the positive upbeat voice in the book. There are many horrible things that happen in life, spending time with friends and having fun should be cherished. For many these times are what is best in life. Friendship and food are often overlooked. Think of all the food choices you have today, the varieties are endless. Friends can also be made everyday, although most of use don't take the opportunity to meet new people everyday. Cherish what you have... and read this book. I'm putting it in my top ten list.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is about a family who runs a Chinese restaurant in the UK. Actually, that restaurant also called Sweet Mandarin is run by 3 chinese sisters, and it was Helen Tse, one of the sisters that wrote this amazing book. I am amazed that they are still around after all the trials they have had to put up with - and after reading this book, I just want to visit Manchester and just give them a hug, and have some of their wonderful food. After reading it, I bet you will feel the same way. Its about a gran-mum-daughter relationship and different generations thinking different things with a few clashes along the way. Very insightful for this day and age. It's like the past and present in the story the grandma and mother represent the past and the daughter represents the present - the daughter, Helen is the narrator - and she has a wicked sense of humour. In each chapter of the story, the mother and daughter of each family discovers more about themselves and about their daughters. This book is unbelievable, because each time I read it there seems to be more than it is. The other books I read, their ending is wrapped up in a nice little package but this book has more to it. I wondered what would happen afterwards but it's really hard because these characters are real . I think this book is really fabulous and Helen Tse is a really great writer because of her writing skills which really draws you into a different world. Helen Tse is able to enter in some psychological complex and a little bit of everything else into her writing which made this book a must read for me. I could relate to it and I know it will hit a chord with other readers. I'd recommend this book to all readers and can't wait to read Helen Tse's next book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had never read anything by Helen Tse, never heard of her. But her book has been endorsed by Amy Tan and my little girl met Helen Tse when she visited her school. So, intrigued as I was about this author, I bought the book. Apparently, shes very popular. I wondered whether her popularity was based on our society's interest in diversity or whether she is the 'real deal.' The book is listed on my daughter's suggested reading list for high school students, so I decided that this was the book I would initially read. After just the first few pages, my question was answered ... this book is destined to go down as a 21st century classic. This is a wonderful book on many different levels. It is a collection of interconnected story of a family from China and their journey to Britain. This book talks about gripping issues such as culture clash, a murder, adoption, fleeing the Japanese during WWII and Chinese culture. It was a very moving account of this family's journey and how they ended up in the restaurant business in Britain. Despite the fact it is about a Chinese family, the themes of heritage, immigration and struggle were aspects that I could relate to in my life (and I'm not Chinese). Helen Tse wrote exceedingly well - some Chinese memoirs are translated and nuances get lost in the translation. Not here. It was a smooth read with a few laughs at her growing up experiences in culture-clash land. I would definitely be buying this book and giving it out as a gift. The cover is absolutely stunning - a work of art - inside and out. I liked how the author's site is showing an excerpt a day....keeping us in suspense till you buy the book. Buy the book. You won't be disappointed. Five stars. *****
Guest More than 1 year ago
Having just returned from China I bought this book which caught my eye because of its eye catching cover. The story is just as picturesq and I could not put this book down. It was written by a Chinese author, who is fluent in English - and that was apparent in the writing. This book just flowed and I was emerged into Chinese history, the migration of the family, their ups and downs 'a lot of downs' and finally through to modern day Britain. It was visual and read like a movie. I could imagine the people, food and places jumping out at me. What I particularly liked was that the author set the scene, told me about the historical facts, places, era that I appreciated as I wandered around Guangzhou and Hong Kong. I found her descriptions of Hong Kong especially to be startlingly true even the 'flamingo sound' at HSBC Tower on a Sunday 'you got to read it to understand that !'. What was different about this book, compared to other Chinese memoirs I have read, was that Sweet Mandarin talked about food. That is a great addition, given that the Chinese love to eat and it is definitely part of their culture. Indeed whilst I was out there, at one of the business meetings, I had to dine with the prospective businessmen and that was very much an important and integral part of the negotiations. Reading Sweet Mandarin gave me a gentle introduction into what is a totally foreign culture to me. Helen Tse managed to tease out the important parts of the Chinese culture and teach me a very important lesson, in the easiest way, through the comfort of my hotel room. I think this is a must read book for anyone going to China or wanting to know more about Chinese history. After reading about the family story, I felt inspired.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved Sweet Mandarin and its one of the best reads I've read so far. I picked up Sweet Mandarin at London Heathrow, so I'm pleased that I got to read it before it has been launched by Barnes and Noble. This book is a memoir that talks about a Chinese family and their journey from rural China to Hong Kong through to the UK. I was crying and really rooting for the heroine of the book, Lily Kwok, and by the end, I was just starving. All the references to food are just amazing - you could really smell and taste the food, just by reading it. I also found the author, Helen Tse's sense of writing really easy to read and humourous. What I loved most about the book was that after reading it, I wanted to talk to my mother and find out about her history and her stories. There are also excellent Chinese quotes throughout the book, which were a nice touch. I would definitely be recommending this to my bookclub.