I’ll make this simple- Jennifer 8 Lee’s The Fortune Cookie Chronicles is an excellent book that strives to answer some of the most common questions that come up when “Chinese Food” is a topic of conversation. As it happens, that’s rather a lot, being that there are more Chinese restaurants in America than any two fast food chains combined.
Little factoids like that are sprinkled all through the book- tidbits of passing interest backed up by research, and deftly tucked into the narrative. The storytelling laid beside the bald facts is poignant, stirring, and leaves definitive impressions, the mark of a worthy piece of writing. Equal parts reporting, blog post, vignette, and amateur food critic, each section gives answers and information that will not only serve to enhance your current understanding, but compound it as you read on. You’ll think back as you near the end of the book and absentmindedly apply bits of info from the beginning to form a more complete picture. That’s not as easy as it sounds, considering your average college textbook. Likewise, it isn’t something I say lightly.
Full disclosure, a drafted manuscript that uses similar research to address several of the book’s major topics is sitting on my harddrive. Jennifer beat me handily to getting things published (benefits of being a journalist and reporter I suppose), but I don’t mind a bit. She did an excellent job from start to finish. Not speaking Mandarin or Cantonese myself, I’m not entirely surprised at the surpassing thoroughness of her efforts- though some of my contacts in Japan might have been useful to her. Her list of notes and bibliographical references is quite comprehensive- for those with a scholarly bent, that section alone is worth digging into. She’s done a LOT of legwork, dredging up old manuscripts, translations, even court documents detailing the struggle of Asian-Americans to find citizenship and some measure of stability here.
There’s one major problem with reviewing a manuscript as well constructed as this- every enticing soundbite and succinctly distilled phrase has already found its way onto either the cover, the dust jacket, or the website promoting it (unsurprisingly http://www.fortunecookiechronicles.com/ ).
But, if you’ve ever wondered who General Tso was, and why his chicken is everywhere. If you’re Jewish, with memories of Chinese food every Christmas. If you’ve ever thought about how the fortune cookie came about. If you want to know who wrote all those fortunes. Or even if you’ve ever played the lucky numbers on the back. I can’t recommend this book enough.
You can find it on the website I listed above, or on Amazon for both hardcopy and digital- http://amzn.to/188rd6q