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Mambo in Chinatown

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  3,434 ratings  ·  573 reviews
From the bestselling author of Girl in Translation, a novel about a young woman torn between her family duties in Chinatown and her escape into the world of ballroom dancing.

Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Wong grew up in New York’s Chinatown, the older daughter of a Beijing ballerina and a noodle maker. Though an ABC (America-born Chinese), Charlie’s entire world has been lim
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published June 24th 2014 by Riverhead Books (first published June 1st 2014)
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Jean Kwok
Jan 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
Since I'm the author, I obviously need to give this book five stars. Whatever your rating or review, thank you so much for reading and I really appreciate it. If you'd like to leave a comment for me by replying to this review, I'd love to hear from you! Sometimes the Goodreads notifications get lost in my inbox, so it might take me a little bit to respond. Thanks again! :-)
Jun 24, 2014 rated it liked it
I have to say that while I found parts of the story interesting, other parts left me completely underwhelmed.

I really wanted to like this one. Initially it grabbed me, and I found myself quickly turning pages. I liked the Chinese culture and I really thought that Charlie was a character that I could root for. Unfortunately, all of the Chinese medical treatment descriptions and her sister Lisa's "mysterious" health condition (which I had figured out way before the author finally decided to revea
Magdalena aka A Bookaholic Swede
Jun 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2016

Mambo i Chinartown var en härlig överraskning! Jag hade hoppas på en småtrevlig bok, men jag räknade inte alls med att boken skulle vara så fängslade och förtjusande att det var svårt att lägga ifrån sig den. Boken lyckas med att både vara rolig och allvarlig och Charlies förvandling som sker gradvis genom bokens handling är underbar att följa.

Men det är kulturkrocken mellan öst och väst som ger boken en special känsla. Jean Kwok har verkligen lyckats med att beskriva problem för
May 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
It’s been many years since I was twenty-two, and I’m not ABC (American-born Chinese), and I’ve never had to choke down a traditional medicine brewed from the intimate body parts of strange animals to please a parent, but Charlie Wong is the kind of character it’s easy to relate to. Clumsy, imperfect, and devoted to her father and brilliant but troubled younger sister Lisa, Charlie has been working long hours as a dishwasher when Mambo in Chinatown opens, hoping for a chance at a better life.

May 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
*I received this book as part of the First-reads giveaways*

My mother-in-law and I had a conversation not too long ago about what constitutes a 5-star rating for a book. Is it a good story? Is it fabulous writing? Is it the perfect mixture of both? Is it something else? Up until this reading this book, I was a 'perfect mixture' kind of girl. This story, however, was so entertaining and sentimental that I just couldn't stop reading! The writing was relatively straightforward, not a whole lot of sy
Diane S ☔
Jun 18, 2014 rated it liked it
Manhattan's Chinatown and two girls, now motherless but living with their father in a very limited area. For me, the most interesting part of this book was the adjustment that the girls had to make in staying true to their culture while harboring dreams that would take them out of it. This happens with the oldest girl, when she gets a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio. Her deceased mother had been a ballerina in Beijing and this job makes her fell closer to her mother. Her father, ...more
Kwok is back with her second book and it is as good as her first one. Dealing with the issues of family and change against the backdrop of being an American Born Chinese, our heroine, Charlie, must balance what she is able to do, what is expected of her, and how to be both mother and sister to her middle school aged younger sister with a father who has checked out of life following the death of her mother. Charlie is an untreated dyslexic who finds life is not so bad once she learns that she tak ...more
May 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Second book I've read in the past month about Chinese Americans. This was extremely good! Listened to it as an audio in the car and definitely wanted to keep driving some trips instead of get out of the car!

What I especially appreciated was the lesson I received in the Chinese culture (how to/not to use chop sticks, the medicinal beliefs, the holiday customs, for instance).

The family unit of Pa, Charlie and Lisa was well developed and strongly knit. The extended family, uncle & aunt, were a
Dec 19, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: new-york-city, 2014
3.5 Stars - This was an enjoyable book for the most part. I enjoyed learning about the world of ballroom dancing and Jean Kwok brings that world, as well as the world in New York Chinatown to life. Taking the journey as Charlie grows from an awkward and shy woman into a beautiful and confident swan made the book, well worth the read. However, I found the story predictable, the younger sister extremely whiney and the struggle of the family far too ordinary. I fell in love with her debut book Gir ...more
Lauri Saplad
Fab-u-lous! This is a triumphant story. The proverbial ugly duckling transforms herself with a lot of assistance from new and old friends. Charlie, a motherless child, must help her family with virtually no one to help her through adolescence and into adulthood. She lives the immigrant experience trying to assimilate from traditional Chinese culture into the American way of life. She must work long hours at a menial job and help support her family and raise her gifted younger sister. Suddenly op ...more
Mar 07, 2014 rated it liked it
Rating: 3/5 stars
Recommended? Yes

Let me start off by stating that I have already read Jean Kwok's first novel, Girl in Translation. I enjoyed this debut novel, but I feel Mambo in Chinatown falls short of the magic Kwok captured in Girl in Translation.

Kwok's writing is still concise, straightforward, and, overall, very easy and pleasant to read. There are times where details border on excessive, but it's easily overlooked when you understand they are mostly necessary. Mambo in Chinatown involves
Nov 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
Wonderful story of a first-generation ABC, with a bit of a Cinderella twist. It was beyond painful reading about poor Charlie's struggles when she'd been in school, as she didn't get help for her dyslexia because her father was too embarrassed to go into the school to talk to her teachers or counselors. The grinding poverty and fear of even going near Western doctors to get help for her little sister were well depicted for the most part. (It was also a nice counterpart to S. J. Rozan's A Bitter ...more
May 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
I requested and received this book as a Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for a review, which I am very happy to provide. This is such a wonderful book, with a protagonist that will steal your heart with her hard work, devotion and unfailing ability to strive towards her own, and her younger sister's, opportunities wherever she finds them. Our heroine, Charlie, lives in Chinatown, caught between her father' s old world sensibilities, his fears of Communist bureaucracy laid upon American "paperwork" ...more
May 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arc, romance

I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway!

I loved this book. Loved it. This is personal more than anything, but being an ABC myself (American-born Chinese) I was able to connect with Charlie. The pressures she goes to to please her father and to fulfill her own dreams are just so...phew. I loved the whole plot of this novel: brilliant, original, and at the same time exposing issues that many are unaware of. It's already hard enough to please strict parents-- but for that parent to be hell-bent
Mar 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
In her debut novel, GIRL IN TRANSLATION, Jean Kwok introduced the world to Kimberly Chang, a young immigrant from Hong Kong who settled in New York with her widowed mother. Kwok builds on the immigrant experience in her new book, MAMBO IN CHINATOWN.

Charlie and Lisa are sisters eleven years apart, but as close as any sisters can be. Their mother passed away years ago and they live with their noodle-maker father. Pa is traditional and rarely leaves the confines of Chinatown. The same could be said
Joy Sorensen
Jun 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
As in her first novel, Girl in Translation, Jean Kwok shares her knowledge of Chinese culture and brings it to life. She weaves another intriguing tale of daughters and their struggle to maintain traditions while trying to find their place in the western world. Charlie takes us deep into the world of ballroom dancing, discovering a talent that connects her to her mother in a way that she never felt as a clumsy, underappreciated dish washer. Her love and concern for her sister play a main part in ...more
May 12, 2014 rated it liked it
This is a quick, easy read - perfect for times when you just don't feel like reading anything too taxing. Charlie and her sister, Lisa, are the American-born daughters of Chinese immigrants. They live in the insular world of Chinatown in NYC, trying to make their way with their widowed father. Charlie is in her 20's and stuck in a dishwashing job, going nowhere fast. She tries to help her father raise Lisa, who is 11, while trying to find her way out of Chinatown. She lands a job in a dance stud ...more
Jun 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
TRIGGER WARNING: This novel briefly touches upon the themes of sexual assault
This book was well written you could really feel and see everything the author described I debated giving it 3 stars but decided on the 4 because of that. The genre its listed under is literary fiction I went in blind and was hoping for historical fiction its much more of a contemporary with a slight romance to it.
Even though it was well written a chunk of the middle of the story was ....I want to say repetitive but
Apr 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I am always a little tiny bit hesitant when it comes to reading GROWN UP books, maybe because most of my reading time is spent whipping my way through young adult and middle grade books. Yet, when Mambo In Chinatown by Jean Kwok came across my threshold, I could not ignore it. I could not hesitate. You see, one of the first few review books that I ever received was Kwok’s Girl In Translation and spoiler alert: I loved it. Now, its been awhile since Girl In Translation was published, about four y ...more
Jun 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2014
What an excellent book about growing up between cultures. Charlie navigates the space between what she desires -- a career and future in dance and pursuing the freedoms she has as an American born Chinese -- and what her cultural heritage and traditions say she should/should want to do. The modern vs. traditional thread pulls through every aspect of this book and it's done with reverence toward both.

This is a book about dance and passion, about finding yourself and cultivating relationships wit
Jul 02, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Redan när jag såg denna första gången så blev jag lite sugen, den verkade vara något för mig, men jag stod emot. Ända tills den faktiskt släpptes och mitt behov av feelgood var monumentalt. Då kände jag att jag bara måste läsa. What's not to like, liksom. Läs mer på min blogg
Rebecca McNutt
Aug 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
I usually avoid the romance genre, but this book has a lot more than just romance. It's the story of a woman who grew up in Chinatown and is now trying to use her resourceful life skills to save her sister from a sudden illness, at the same time trying to hide her secret career from her father.
Sep 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ich gebe zu, diesen Roman von Jean Kwok wollte ich schon alleine wegen dem wunderbaren Titel lesen: “Wenn die Liebe tanzen lernt” oder – im Original – “Mambo in Chinatown”.

Kwok erzählt hier die Geschichte von Charlie Wong, welche gemeinsam mit ihrem Vater – einem Nudelmacher – und ihrer kleinen Schwester Lisa in Chinatown lebt. Den Großteil ihres Tages verbringt Charlie mit dem Tellerwaschen im Restaurant, in dem auch ihr Vater arbeitet. Das Geld ist in der Familie immer knapp, deswegen besteht
Jenny Bunting
Apr 14, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobook
3.5 Stars

I found this overall enjoyable and it kept my interest for most of the time. I found the underlying discussion of Chinese immigrants trying to hold to their old way of life while living in America fascinating and authentic. I thought the characters, especially the protagonist Charlie, were strong and competently rounded out, which I appreciated. If you are a fan of Dirty Dancing, you might like this book.

On the other hand, I found it uber predictable, even though I don't actively predic
I loved Charlie and her struggles to strike a balance between finding herself and her dreams and being there for her widowed father and younger sister. Many of the issues presented are relatable, whether you're from a family of immigrants or not. I found myself easily immersed in Charlie's world. I particularly enjoyed the juxtaposition of ballroom dancing and Tai Chi. I did feel that I knew quite early on what was going on with Charlie's sister, Lisa, and I wonder if it lent a darkness to the s ...more
Christina (A Reader of Fictions)
4.5 Stars

One of my special loves is dancing. It’s a love I got from my mother, just like Charlie did. Though, in the case of my family, it’s more about watching dancing than actually doing it, which I’m simply hopeless at. But, seriously, I don’t care how terrible a movie is: if it’s about dancing, I will watch it and probably like it a good deal more than I should. I hoped Mambo in Chinatown would be the book equivalent of movies like Strictly Ballroom and Shall We Dance?, and oh how right I wa
Jul 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Terrific story! I loved reading about ballroom dancing.

I knew when the bed wetting started there was something going on in the office where Lisa was working. I am happy it wasn't the uncle.

My only question is what happened at the dance studio? Did Charlie continue teaching because Ryan quit taking lessons? And I was so happy Pa came around at the end. I guess the issues with Lisa slapped some sense into him! Also I liked the irony of the situation with Lisa. It wasn't an American that harmed h
Apr 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
This was an enjoyable read. I tend to like stories about Asian culture. I've read this author before and I enjoyed that one as well.

This book had a slow methodical pace. That wasn't a bad thing here. I love the family dynamics and the cultural ties that seemed to wrap around the different generations (some generations are wrapped a little tighter). Every member, regardless of age, are trapped in tradition and in what is acceptable. The characters were well drawn and I felt I could relate to the
Nancy Reynolds
Jul 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Great new spinning of the "ugly duckling" becoming a swan. I loved this book. It gave me such a new understanding for struggling to live between two cultures: western and eastern. Charlie is a 22 year old Chinese American girl who has never shone at anything - and suddenly gets her chance at thriving in the ballroom dance room. It truly is a modern-day fairytale. I won't say too much more because others have given the bare bones of the storyline in their reviews. If you want to learn more, read ...more
Terri Haynes
Jun 03, 2014 rated it liked it
If you like dance movies, particularly Shall We Dance?, then you'll like this book. It is a little predictable, but not in a bad way. The fact that it's set in Asian culture and about ballroom dancing raised this book rating in my mind. There's not a lot of profanity, if that matters to you. Worth the read.
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Jean Kwok is the New York Times and international bestselling, award-winning author of Searching for Sylvie Lee (coming June 4, 2019), Girl in Translation and Mambo in Chinatown. Her work has been published in eighteen countries and taught in universities, colleges, and high schools across the world. She has been selected for numerous honors, including the American Library Association Alex Award, ...more
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” 3 likes
“I began to see beauty as something that could be unleashed from within a person rather than a set of physical features like a perfect nose or big eyes.” 3 likes
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