cover image DAUGHTER OF HEAVEN: A Memoir with Earthly Recipes

DAUGHTER OF HEAVEN: A Memoir with Earthly Recipes

Leslie Li, . . Arcade, $25 (304pp) ISBN 978-1-55970-768-8

Like an amuse bouche , each vignette in Li's memoir tantalizes with a taste of Li's life as a Chinese-American in suburban New York, leaving readers longing for more delicious tidbits. Li chronicles incidents in her life from her 1950s childhood to her grandmother Nai-Nai's centenary in Guilin, China, in the 1980s. The essays lyrically show the tension in Li's family between her father and mother, between herself and her father, and most of all, between Li's American ways and her Chinese history. Li uses the food of her family to tell her stories: "At a Chinese table," she writes, "it's the unspoken words that count. The meal is the message." A silent meal with her Chinese-born father speaks more of the disintegration of her parents' marriage than explication could. She writes, "I... didn't want him to have to eat alone, not when my parents' marriage was dissolving, like the pierced egg yolk seeping and disappearing into his noodles." The prose comes most alive when Li focuses on Nai-Nai, who lived with the author's family for 15 years when Li was young. Leaping decades ahead, Li returns to China to visit her senile grandmother, and she begins to try to reconstruct Nai-Nai's life. The focus shifts as Li begins writing her novel, Bittersweet , and she includes some of her conjecture about the years her grandmother spent in the U.S. While readers may wish for yet more stories of Nai-Nai and of Li herself, the book is more than satisfying, and the mythical ending (Li recounts a fable of her own) is haunting. Agent, Joanne Wang. (May)