Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Mambo in Chinatown; Jean Kwok

 Mambo in Chinatown; Jean Kwok
Riverhead - June 2014

Having enjoyed Jean Kwok's debut novel, Girl in Translation in 2010, I was anxious to try her follow-up which also features yet another young Chinese-American protagonist, trying to find her place in the world.

Charlie Wong was born in the US. Her father is a noodle maker at a restaurant in New York's Chinatown.  Her mother, once a ballerina with a Beijing Dance Company, passed away when Charlie and her sister Lisa were quite young. Sister Lisa is ten year's younger than Charlie, but at 11 she seems to know what she wants and she is a straight A student. Charlie on the other hand, is struggling to find her place in the world. She's rather clumsy, not smart like her sister, and she's been let-go from several jobs.  Most recently she's been working as a dishwasher at the restaurant where her father works. She sees an ad for a receptionist position at Avery Dance Studio, and applies, A woman named Adrienne sees something in Charlie and gives her a chance. One thing leads to another and soon Charlie begins to shine. Meanwhile, Charlie tries to keep it all quiet from her father who is reserved and set in the ways of his culture.

Charlie's life becomes somewhat of an ugly-step sister to Cinderella tale. She's a character that you will root for all the way, even though good things seemed to happen far too easily for her,  unlike most of what we experience in everyday life.  The story is mostly centered on Charlie, even though her young sister does come more into focus when she becomes very sick in the story.  The cultural clash and Mr. Wong's distrust of modern medicine are highlighted here. 

Overall, I enjoyed this story a lot, especially being drawn into learning more about the Chinese culture and medicine practices.  It's also always nice to see the underdog triumph.

4/5 stars
(review copy)


  1. Charlie sounds like a pretty cool character!

  2. Great review. I'm glad you enjoyed this.

  3. Sounds like a good book - glad to know you liked it!

  4. I had a chance to attend an event with the author in March and started the book then - it captured me right away and I am looking forward to getting back to it!


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