Roselle Lim’s debut novel, Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck & Fortune released on June 11th. It is a beautifully written tale of “food, heritage and finding family in the most unexpected places.” Set in San Francisco’s Chinatown, we follow our heroine, Natalie, as she processes the guilt she feels over the loss of her estranged mother while struggling to reopen the long-abandoned family restaurant. That means this tale is ripe with food-centric metaphors, a personal fave of mine! Lim does a lovely job setting the scenes with her lyrical writing style. You can smell the smells and practically feel the heaviness of the air with her descriptions. Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck & Fortune deals with a lot of family superstitions and beliefs passed down from generation to generation – this gives us a light and airy feel that some might consider magical. I would not classify this as magical realism, but the realizations of these superstitions definitely give it an almost otherworldly feel. This Women’s Fiction novel with romantic threads throughout was uniquely enjoyable for a southern, superstitious foodie like me!
Lim’s debut is a page-turner, and I am excited to watch her writing journey progress. She took some time out of her busy schedule to chat with me…
Donna: Please take a moment to tell us about yourself and how you started writing.
Roselle: I was born in Manila. We immigrated to Toronto when I was ten. My paternal grandmother had fed me stories of Filipino folklore and western fairy tales growing up. She inspired me with the idea that I one day I could write my own.
In grade school I started writing fanfic. By high school, I was reading romance novels by Julie Garwood, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and Judith McNaught, so I began writing stories like those I relished reading. While the concept of creating what I enjoyed consuming has stayed with me, writing is a struggle. English isn’t my first or second language and I found its complicated grammar confusing.
Ideas are always plentiful, but I labor in their execution. My pride and sheer stubbornness prevent me from quitting.
Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck & Fortune is truly a beautiful debut novel. Congratulations. Can you tell us a little about your inspiration and process behind bringing this tale to life?
The story began with the erhu. I heard this instrument live at a Chinese dance performance. The sound haunted me and I created a character that became Mr. Kuk Wah.
Once I had Mr. Kuk Wah, I knew the story had to be set in Chinatown. In the Philippines, my family lived in Manila’s Chinatown. My grandfather owned a dried goods store and we lived in the apartments above. Later when we moved to Canada, family vacations included stops in the local Chinatown as my parents preferred the comforting taste of Chinese food. These experiences demonstrated the power food had in reminding one of their home even in strange and foreign places.
I wanted to write about my background as an immigrant, and my passion for food.
I am a southerner that grew up on a tobacco farm on the east coast, Natalie Tan’s origin story is very different from mine. However, there is something about the powers of family magic and superstitions that seem to cross over all cultures. We all have grandma’s words of wisdom in common and whether we like it or not, those wise words stick with us forever. I was taught it’s bad luck to do laundry on Sunday and I often see my mother’s favorite blue birds in my yard when I seem to need a hug from her. You explore some of Natalie’s magical experiences in the story, are there any that are uniquely personal to you?
I grew up with many superstitions and beliefs: from the absurd (jumping up and down to make myself taller) to the terrifying (never sleep with your uncovered feet facing a window lest an evil spirit pull you out by the toes.) My grandmother told me the one I loved most—she believed butterflies were the physical manifestations of departed souls. The thought that people we’ve lost come back to us in such a beautiful and fragile vessel resonated with me. Every time I see one, I think about her.
I love the way you tie music into the story, we begin and end with special songs of specific characters’ lives. Does Roselle Lim have a song for her life?
Right now it’s “Runaway with Me” by Carly Rae Jepsen off her EMOTIONS album. It’s peppy, bright, addictive, and feeds my need to escape. The bass line is soothing and Jepsen’s breathy voice feels how inspiration sounds.
I think Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck & Fortune would make a fabulous book club discussion. There is a lot to unpack and discuss in this book. What would you say is the main take away or discussion point of the story?
Family: mothers and daughters, generational impact, communities, and found families. How we identify family differs from person to person and its importance varies. In the beginning, Natalie’s concept of family is claustrophobic. As she engages with her neighbors, her view of family expands to encompass the whole neighborhood.
People you choose to call family can be as strong—as potent—as the ties of blood.
What can we look forward to from you next?
Set in Paris, my next novel continues in the same world as Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune, but involves the teashop fortuneteller and her family. There are hints of magic and, of course, copious amounts of food!