Book Review: The World of Suzie Wong by Richard Mason

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The World of Suzie Wong successfully transported me to Hong Kong of the mid-1950s. It is both a great and easy read, if you are open to a melodramatic love story, with bits of emotional roller coaster ride.

I found this novel at Dymocks in Melbourne when I was visiting family last December. I didn’t have a lot of expectations and the only reason why I bought it (aside from it being on sale) was that the backdrop of the story is Hong Kong, one of my favorite cities in Asia.

As it turned out, The World of Suzie Wong was a beautiful surprise. Extremely well-written and thoughtful, it takes the reader to the streets of seedy Wan Chai, the sights and sounds of Nathan Road in the mid-century setting of Hong Kong.

Robert Lomax, an aspiring British artist who relocated from Malaysia to Hong Kong, is the only long-term resident of Nam Kok Hotel, which is more of a brothel paid by the hour.  Robert meets Suzie, a Chinese prostitute, who frequents the hotel bar and regularly rents the hotel with her sailor customers. Suzie becomes Robert’s muse, despite their relationship being platonic.  Over a long and tedious process, with Suzie’s several “boyfriends” gracing the pages and adding more color to the story line, they eventually fall in love.

Their romance is mired by a lot of complications, which provided a lot of texture to the story, making it more evocative.

Mason’s character exposition made Suzie very endearing with her simplistic yet practical view of things. Suzie actually felt so real. The author also made a painstaking effort to provide richness in the other characters surrounding Suzie and Robert, including the other prostitutes that Robert has come to know during his stay at the Nam Kok.

Overall, it is beautifully written, with powerful imagery of a dated Hong Kong. Mason’s descriptive writing style made the book a page-turner and a beautiful journey that the reader will enjoy with Suzie and Robert.

This book is one of my surprise favorites and I definitely recommend it!

5-out-of-5

Book Review:  One Summer in Venice by Nicky Pellegrino

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If you like Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” and Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project,” then this book is the perfect one to be next on your reading list. If you like books with vivid travel backdrops and decadent descriptions of food and wine, then you better run to your nearest bookstore to find this novel…fast!

Everything about “One Summer in Venice” is delicious: the chilled Procecco, the Venetian food fare served in the bacaros, Dolly’s Venetian flame, Coco’s colorful past that overshadowed her flamboyant outfits and the vivid descriptions of the nooks and crannies of Venice, all created a wonderful amalgam of a story set in beautiful Venice, Italy.

Addolorata (Dolly), a restaurateur-owner of Little Italy that she inherited from her father, has a seemingly perfect life in London, with Eden, her gorgeous husband and her beautiful daughter Katia. Suffering an early onset of mid-life crisis, all hell seemed to have broken loose when a food critique downright slammed Little Italy. The harsh review triggered Dolly to question her life and her marriage, hie off to Venice on a supposedly quick solo break that ended up taking the entire summer, in pursuit of her happiness list.

In Venice, she started discovering and writing down things that make her happy, through the help of Venetian locals who knew how to enjoy life in all its glory – from the stylish Coco who became a sort of mentor-slash-older best friend-slash landlady to the charming chef-slash-tango dancer-slash-local playboy Angelo. Dolly discovers a new passion unbeknownst to her – the tango, and resurrects her love for the art of making good Italian food.

Nicky Pellegrino’s “One Summer in Venice” is not my usual genre in books. It is a memorable book for me, though, as I found it in the stack of new novels in Frizzo Luigi’s legendary Libreria Acqua Alta, right smack in the middle of Calle Longa Formosa at the heart of Venice. Yes, I bought this book about Venice in Venice itself, along with some postcards and bookmarks to make me remember the days I spent in this magical city that I immediately fell in love with the moment that I stepped out of Stazione di Venizia Santa Lucia.

This is probably one of the reasons why I liked the book, because it accurately depicted the Venice that I was enamored with.  I thoroughly loved and enjoyed the book, to the point that I can’t put it down, eager to know what happens next to Dolly’s quest for happiness. This book helped me soak up Venice’s food, wine, culture, bacaros and canals – page by page – as it evoked the sights, taste and smell of the City of Water.

Although Dolly’s existential questions and pursuit of happiness were understandable, the realist in me found her decision to spend the entire summer in Venice, leaving her daughter Katia in London quite irresponsible. I also wondered how someone who claimed to be cash-strapped like her was able to afford her entire summer in Venice.

To my surprise, though, I can relate more to Coco, than to Dolly, who was supposed to be the main heroine in the story.  I admired Coco’s courage, flamboyance and devil-may-care attitude. Unraveling her secrets and her past was one of my favorite chapters in the novel.

Nicky Pellegrino successfully provided texture to the story – the canals, bacaros, cafes, food, wine and tango all helped to make the reader feel that they are actually in Venice. It made me want to go back to explore it again for another round!

I found the ending to be a little hurried for my liking, as if the writer just wanted to end it hastily. It left me asking myself, “Huh, was that it?” There wasn’t anything monumental or cathartic to how it ended, leaving me to ask for more.

Overall, it is a good, easy read. It transported me back to Venice, conjuring the sea-salty taste of a slew of ciccheti and a chilled glass of Procecco.  At this, I can relate to Dolly’s 4th item on her happiness list:

Addolorata’s  Happiness List:

A glass of chilled Prosecco. Preferably drunk outdoors, at a table with a view. Just one glass…at most maybe two… taken in the early evening before the sun goes down, with a little dish of olives or some salty pistachios. A civilised, quiet drink at the end of a day of work, maybe with a friend but even on my own.”

Rating: 4 out 5

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