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Daughter of Heaven: A Memoir with Earthly Recipes [Paperback]

Leslie Li

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Hardcover --  
Paperback £11.63  
Paperback, 17 April 2006 --  

Book Description

17 April 2006
A powerful, touching memoir of a Chinese-American woman and her Chinese grandmother by an extraordinarily talented author who has drawn comparisons to Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston. Leslie Li belongs to the illustrious Li family of Guilin, China. Her grandfather, Li Zongren, was China's first democratically elected vice president, to whom Chiang Kai-shek handed over control of the country when he fled to Formosa in 1949. Leslie's father was studying in the U.S. where he met and married Leslie's American-born mother. In 1958, Leslie's grandmother Nai-nai came to live with her son's family in New York, bringing with her a new world of sights, smells, and tastes. Nai-nai's wonderfully exotic new cooking opened Leslie's heart and mind to her Chinese heritage and to the world. As Leslie grew, taste became the stronghold of memory, and food the keeper of culture. It was through her grandmother's traditional Chinese cuisine that Leslie bridged the cultural divide in an America where she is a minority-and bridged the growing gap at home between her traditionalist father and her progressive mother. Sprinkled throughout Leslie's poignant and moving memoir are recipes from Nai-nai's kitchen that add a delicious dimension to a heartwarming tale.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing; Reprint edition (17 April 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 155970800X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559708005
  • Product Dimensions: 20.1 x 13 x 2.5 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 6,458,265 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stone soup and conversations with Old Man Hill 1 Aug 2005
By Kari Fjällström - Published on Amazon.com
I enjoyed this book very much. Daughter of Heaven is thoughtfully composed and at the same time enormously energetic and energizing. I love the way the story coils back on itself toward the end and packs a wallop! There is a breath-like quality to the last third of the book.

The book includes many great recipes, but what I enjoyed most were all the stories about stones! My parents are both geologists so I am used to hearing fascinating stories about stones. I loved them all: the stone soup, Li's centering rock, the stone bridge between Li and her father, and especially the Afterward and the author's conversation with Old Man Hill! Lovely! 'Keep your voice low' and 'Don't swallow!'

I also found Li's description of her life as a hermit-writer inspiring. I appreciated her description of her days writing on the island in Finland- struggling not to spend to much time on survival so that more can be spent in fantasy.

My father died when I was young and as I never knew him well, I find stories about fathers and daughters very interesting. I understand that this mythical relationship is not often harmonious. I loved it when Li heaved out that her father was 'not an articulate man, even in Chinese'. (Sadly her great strength was his great weakness.)

There were many parts that moved me: when the banana leaf dragon boats appear in the pond, Li waiting in the bank on Mott and Canal with an article on Guilin to show her father, the jagged rhythm of that conversation in the restaurant, her reflections on suffering in fiction and memoirs.

Li's memoir transported me to a fascinating new world and I thank her warmly for that! This is a most inspiring reflection on the complications and adventures of growing up in a multi-cultural family.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Circular Odyssey 4 May 2005
By Barbara Daelman - Published on Amazon.com
I liked Daughter of Heaven and would definitely recommend it to other readers. I enjoyed getting to know Li's paternal grandmother, her father, her grandfather's second wife, her mother, and the food, and significance of Chinese life here and in China.

On occasion I found the juxtaposition of a recipe after an emotionally wrenching chapter a bit jarring. I have yet to try the recipes, but I plan to. And I am curious about the significance of the title. Did I miss something?

The book helped me understand Li and what it meant to be a Chinese-American in the United States, Europe and China. The episode involving Li's buying two bamboo flutes in New York's Chinatown and being told by the clerk that she was like them -- empty inside, with no Chinese culture -- was especially powerful.

Her odyssey has been a circular one -- away from Chinese culture and then back to it for an understanding and an appreciation. And I understood how important her father had been in shaping that journey. His verbal cruelty when she were growing up was hard to take, but somewhat mitigated by Li's travels with him to China and learning of his own odyssey.

Li's book brought home once again how long a parent's reach is and how we, no matter how old, are looking for approval or deliberately challenging them. It's how most of us achieve our own identity. Few of us can simply walk away, but dealing with one's parents

often forces us into a response that we then have to resolve at a later date, as Li has attempted, successfully, I'd say, by writing her memoir.

For future projects, I hope Li will continue to use her own stories. They are compelling -- the conflict between two cultures and the search for self.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting culinary memoir! 29 April 2006
By Dizziey - Published on Amazon.com
In "Daughters of Heaven: A Memoir with Earthly Recipes," Leslie Li wrote about her life, growing with a Chinese father and an American mother in New York City. When her paternal grandmother, Nai Nai came to live with them in the U.S., Leslie's life was very much altered. Her Nai Nai took over the kitchen and soon, the family started having very traditional Chinese cuisine. It was difficult for Leslie as she was perceived "different," since she did not bring the typical lunch to school. It took some time for Leslie to realize the wonders of her Nai Nai's cooking. The second half of the book dealt mostly with Leslie's career, raising her son alone, and her conflict with her dad.

The first half of the book was interesting as the author wrote about having to adjust life when her grandmother moved in with them. However, I felt that the second half of the book was somewhat unorganized. She mentioned in passing about her college life and her having gone to France. In addition, the author wrote about her relationship with her parents but she hardly mentioned her sibblings at all. This was still quite an interesting book to read, and I especially enjoy the recipes that the author gave throughout the book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book about family, life and food! 2 May 2005
By J. Brazy - Published on Amazon.com
What initially attracted me to this book in a shop in Zurich was the cover. The title, colors and images made me pick it up. Then there was the inner sleeve, a quick read told me - Hmmm - meeting this person Nai Nai, some recipes, and listening to Leslie Li describe her life sounds like a fun read - but it was so much more.

Daughter of Heaven takes you deep into Leslie's life - that of her wonderful family, of their interaction with each other and the changing world around them. Leslie gives you insight to her world as a child, where she is a little bit spoiled, a little bratty, and somewhat annoyed by her grandmother - Nai Nai and her conservative father. She then returns to these images as a woman, and in realizing what a treasure her family had become to her, finds answers to many questions that have followed her for decades.

Nai Nai - we have the pleasure of enjoying the life (in pages) of this incredible woman - #1 wife of Li Zongren - Chiang Kai-shek's choice for vice president. You get to enjoy Nai-Nai's food (with sumptuous recipe's at the end of each chapter), hear about her subtle yet carefully planned undoings of wife #2, and are witness to her departure from life after age 100 (I was quite sad during this part of the book). You also get to meet Leslie's father, a caring and sensitive man, caught between his stoic traditional Chinese upbringing, his American wife and their children, who are a constant source of challenges and discovery for him.

Leslie has such a colorful family, and does a magnificent job of making the reader a part of her family - it's as if you were Leslie's best friend and she was imparting these experiences to you first hand and inviting you to dinner. I know I want to meet Nai Nai (unfortunately she has passed away), her father, and Leslie herself to probe for more stories.

This is an honest take on the discoveries of life, one which I am certain we can all relate to in some way, as well as getting `a lovely parting gift' at the end of each chapter of a recipe, which brings this book into another dimension - the universal language of food.
4.0 out of 5 stars China, land of symbolism and tradition 7 Oct 2008
By Linda Austin - Published on Amazon.com
"Writing memoir involves observing people making you suffer...and discovering what it is they've suffered that makes them insist you suffer, too." So Leslie Li summarizes this story about growing up with a "failed" father, who is the son of a great Chinese general, and a half-Chinese mother who is fully American. Embedded throughout is the quiet strength of grandmother Nai-Nai (the Daughter of Heaven?) who married Li Zongren and rose to privileged life with him but never left her hardy peasant upbringing behind. Li begins with her difficult childhood, interrupted by Nai-Nai's arrival and a lesson in the history of rice vs noodles. She leaves for Europe, returning with a son who looks not at all Chinese, then takes a series of journeys to China, often with her father, to discover her roots and visit Nai-Nai who has been invited back from exile after the Cultural Revolution.

The details of Chinese culture are quite fascinating. The memoir jumps a bit, sometimes abruptly or confusingly, and it is not always smooth reading. Li's sisters and son are barely mentioned; instead the memoir focuses mostly on the relationship between father and daughter and on the wonderfully interesting Nai-Nai. Near the end, there is a jaw-dropping speech by the normally quiet father as Nai-Nai, in hospital, approaches her 100th birthday.

Entertaining and enlightening, "Daughter of Heaven" is not particularly an easy read, but worthwhile for the combination of history, anecdotes and relationships. A few of the recipes are worth trying - the Soy Sauce Chicken is yummy.
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