The Dim Sum of all Things
I was very excited about The Dim Sum Of All Things. By reading the blurb I expected it to be witty and hilarious. But the problem with preconceived notions is that you generally expect too much and end up disappointed instead. My cousin, for example, once raved about a certain recipe, which I then tried for myself. While the results were okay, I expected more. Like that recipe, The Dim Sum of All Things didn’t quite live up to my expectations – but it was certainly better than my cousin’s recipe.
Lindsey Owyang is a third-generation Asian American who has lived in San Francisco her entire life. Even though she has a college degree, she finds herself working for little pay as a secretary in a dead-end job. To make matters worse, she is a “closet meat-eater” working at a vegan magazine with people she has nothing in common. Lindsey has little money, little respect, no boyfriend and – horror of all horrors – she lives with her grandmother. She definitely wants a boyfriend but only seems to attract the Asian men her grandmother forces upon her or those she calls Hoarders (pasty, white men who only date Asian women). And then she gets to know Michael, a travel editor for the magazine. He seems rather arrogant at first, yet there is definitely something about him that Lindsey finds attractive. Soon they are flirting their way into a relationship. Yet, questions immediately arise for Lindsey; could Michael possibly be a Hoarder? If not, how can she possibly bring a white man home to her Asian family?
This book features two storylines. The secondary focus is on Lindsey and Michael’s romance. The main story, though, is how Lindsey learns to appreciate her Asian culture. Lindsey has always been surrounded by her Asian family and their Asian ways yet has always done her best to hide her “Chinese-ness” and fit in with her American friends. And so we find Lindsey in her mid-20s, somewhat confused about who she is supposed to be, trapped between two cultures. She does not speak any Chinese, she is embarrassed by her grandmother’s Chinese customs, and is obsessed with hiding her own midget toe. But her family will not let her ignore her background.
Lindsey is rather annoyed when she finds out that she has been volunteered by the family to take her grandmother to China. But how horrible could it be, she thinks, assuming it should be something like the Chinese Pavilion at Disney World. Of course, it is not, and it is ridiculous to assume that it would be. My seven-year-old nephew would know the difference between China and Disney World. Yet going to China is an eye-opening experience for Lindsey. She does not truly understand her family until she travels there and discovers her roots. Although this book deals with Asian-American culture, any ethnic group will understand the trials that Lindsey goes through when seemingly having to decide between two cultures. And women will cringe and laugh as Lindsey agonizes over her body, her work and her man.
I learned quite a bit about Asian-American culture as a result of reading this book. Keltner has great promise and an amusing view of the world. If there is one major problem with the book, it is that she needs to work on her humor and content. The book is funny, but at times has too much information. Humor should be witty and snappy – it should not come with an explanation. In fact, many of the jokes are too obvious and fall flat. The romance is secondary to Lindsey’s relations with her family and her own struggle with her identity. Yet there is romance, and it is fun and amusing at times, but Lindsey’s feelings often seem more immature than funny. Her hot/cold attitude toward Michael eventually grates.
Those interested in Asian culture should consider reading The Dim Sum of All Things. It gives a comical perspective on being stuck between two different worlds. The story of Lindsey’s grandmother is particularly heartfelt, and women will completely understand Lindsey’s obsession with her body and her self-deprecating attitude. There is a great book here, but it’s buried underneath layers of useless information and explanation. Ms. Keltner needs to trust in her own witty writing and trust that her readers will understand it, and she may eventually have a great hit. Buy the book and read it, but like my cousin’s recipe, do not expect perfection.