Book: Mambo In Chinatown by Jean Kwok
Published July 2015 by Riverhead Books|448 pages
Where I Got It: I own the paperback
Genre: Adult Fiction
From the bestselling author of Girl in Translation, an inspiring novel about a young woman torn between her family duties in Chinatown and her escape into a more Western world.
Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Wong grew up in New York’s Chinatown, the older daughter of a Beijing ballerina and a noodle maker. Though an ABC (American-born Chinese), Charlie’s entire life has been limited to this small area. Now grown, she lives in the same tiny apartment with her widower father and her eleven-year-old sister, and works—miserably—as a dishwasher.
But when she lands a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio, Charlie gains access to a world she hardly knew existed, and everything she once took to be certain turns upside down. Gradually, at the dance studio, awkward Charlie’s natural talents begin to emerge. With them, her perspective, expectations, and sense of self are transformed—something she must take great pains to hide from her father and his suspicion of all things Western. As Charlie blossoms, though, her sister becomes chronically ill. As Pa insists on treating his ailing child exclusively with Eastern practices to no avail, Charlie is forced to try to reconcile her two selves and her two worlds—Eastern and Western, old world and new—to rescue her little sister without sacrificing her newfound confidence and identity.
After reading Girl In Translation, I knew I had to read Mambo In Chinatown. While I didn’t love Mambo In Chinatown, I still really liked it, and I liked it a lot more than Girl In Translation.
One thing I noticed while reading this book is that something about it rings true. It seems like Kwok draws on her own experiences as an immigrant when she writing, and it shows, because something about Mambo In Chinatown felt really personal. Also, I think Kimberly from Girl In Translation makes an appearance in this book…at least, it seems like her, and it would be really cool if it were.
I did like Charlie. She’s doing everything she can to help out her father and her sister, and you see how she struggles with reconciling two different worlds. I was surprised with what happens with her sister, and I hope she gets the help she needs. I respect that their dad is doing what he thinks is best for them, but it ended up doing more harm then good, it would seem.
And Charlie did have a lot on her plate- for some reason, I initially thought she was younger than she was, but it’s clear she cares about her sister and that she’s doing her best to help out. I love that she ends up learning how to dance, and considering her mom was a ballerina, I thought there would be more connections to that. Still, I’m glad it worked out for her, and while her dad wasn’t happy about it, it seems like he comes around, which is good.
Speaking of her dad, he does do his best in raising Charlie and her sister, but a lot of work still falls to Charlie. I’m glad she finally said something about it to him, because we do see some changes in him after that. I did hate that he didn’t want to give Western Medicine a try. I’m not sure if it’s because of the medical issues his wife had, or if he just didn’t believe in it, but it was frustrating, even if I could understand it. He went through quite the change, and it happened pretty fast, so that was a little odd, but at least he’s trying.
Charlie was easy to relate to- she’s imperfect and clumsy and she just wants a better life. I really liked her, and I thought she became a lot more confident by the end of the book. I’m glad things worked out for her, and that she has great friends and family.
4 stars. I really liked Mambo In Chinatown, and seeing how much Charlie changed by the end of the book.