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Sour Sweet

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  663 ratings  ·  33 reviews
Shortlisted for the 1982 Booker Prize, this novel explores the clans and conflicts of Soho's Chinatown, where the Chen family arrive and want to succeed as restaurateurs in the 1960s. No family can survive for long without encountering the Triads. By the author of "The Redundancy of Courage".
Paperback, 287 pages
Published April 8th 1999 by Paddleless Press (first published 1982)
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Average rating 3.71  · 
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 ·  663 ratings  ·  33 reviews

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Sep 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
I have not read so many historic Booker nominees this year, but Timothy Mo has been on my radar for some time, so it was an easy decision to pick this one up. It was his second novel, and was shortlisted for the 1982 Booker Prize.

The story alternates between two groups of characters. On the one hand we have Chen and Lily, a married couple who have arrived from Hong Kong in 1960s London. The other thread follows the in-fighting among the leadership of a Triad gang, the Hung family. It is no
Sep 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
This curious book did not give any warning, although the title might have alerted me.
This story of Chinese immigrants struggling to achieve security in a foreign land follows two separate casts of characters. There is the fragment of the family, Lily, her sister Mui,her Husband and Son. And there is the Hung family, ruthless gang members who are portrayed with equal sympathy by Mo who has the uncanny knack of zooming in and out of his various characters perspective and drawing our empathy even
Jul 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Of those I've read, Mo's best work. I can't help but compare it with Fifth Chinese Daughter since it's set in a family living above their restaurant, but this is about my generation rather than my grandad's so it's a bit closer to home and, though a comedy, rather grim. Lily is a wonderful character however. A lovely film too
May 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this little gem. After the epic that was an insular posession, this feels like some departure following as it does the exploits of a Chinese immigrant family in 1960's Britain. If you've seen the movie (inexplicably the setting in 1980s Britain) please don't be put off, the book is soo much better.
Colin Davison
Jul 31, 2018 rated it it was ok
I was fascinated as a boy in 1960s Liverpool by the Chinese community, closed and mysterious behind a virtual great wall. So how accurately in its essentials is it reflected in Timothy Mo's novel?
The main plot is conventional enough, and pretty unelaborated at that. Waiter Chen takes on a family debt, gambles, owes more and becomes prey to a Triad clan. There are poignant and sometimes semi-comic moments: Chen's wife Lily and her sister Mui almost starving themselves but providing a duty-bound
Mar 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed it. I am always interested in reading about the experiences of immigrants in their new homes. As somebody who has lived in another country, I appreciate their hard work, confusion, happiness and miscommunication. I like that this went back and forth between a "regular" family who moved from Hong Kong to London and a group of gangsters/mobsters also originally from Hong Kong. Watching the family try so hard to be happy and fulfilled at the same time as the mobsters are ruining ...more
Mar 06, 2019 added it
I absolutely loved this book. It is beautifully written and eloquently described a story of two sisters, a husband and a child and their determination to cope and do as best as they can in difficult circumstances. It reveals and draws each of their characters slowly and beautifully. Tragic at times but also uplifting and warming at other times with a few good laughs too. I highly recommend this book. I wanted to read it having read many years ago an Insular Possession by Timothy Mo. It seems he ...more
Jul 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely love this book but my Chen love is not shared with my friends! It's such a moving story and the way it flips from the heartwarming and funny Chens to the darker forces at work is very well done. You really feel as though you're part of the family.
Aug 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Excellent! In places had me laughing out loud, in places hard and cold as iron. A wonderfully penetrating portrayal of a Chinese immigrant family in England and the world they live in.
Jan 20, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An insight into a part of London I knew nothing about. Rivetting.
Ryan Williams
Oct 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Finally taken off the To Be Read list. All I knew about it was Ian McEwan wrote the script for the film version, which not even YouTube pirates bother with.

Glad I did. You could write what I know about China and its citizenry on the back of a soggy hob-nob, let alone about Chinese immigrants living in 60s London. The outsider’s viewpoint is what it makes the book so compelling - and fascinating. Just describing a housewife’s fascination with Coronation Street is a high aesthetic outing.

I found
Eileen Sainsbury
Nov 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
I first read this book in 1983, after having heard it read as "A Book at Bedtime" on BBC radio. At that time, I was astounded to learn about the underworld of (Chinese) immigrants in Britain. Since then things have definitely not improved, obviously, and I am now going to re-read the book (for probably the fourth time) in the light of the poor Vietnamese illegal immigrants to UK in autumn 2019. A very important book.
May 30, 2019 rated it liked it
I really enjoyed sections of this book but it was a bit slow moving for me. A really interesting perspective on the lives of Chinese immigrants living in London in the late 60's. Very funny in parts, gruesome in others.
Aug 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
The ending... why... was that necessary. So cruel T-T
Clare Walker
Jun 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
So much better than I expected. Fantastic book.
Lesley Arrowsmith
Aug 10, 2017 rated it it was ok
Interesting, but not really my cup of tea.
May 17, 2019 rated it liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

This is a story of Chinese immigrants in London and how they try to live in the new and alien society. But they are unaware of the underground gangsters who are targeting them... or are they? It is a struggle between tradition and modernity set in the 60s.
Human vulnerability is carefully studied. It was a delight to get to know each character.
The parts dealing with the gangsters bored me sometimes-- but Lily and Chen with their family were rather refreshing.
Aug 27, 2014 rated it it was ok
Sour Sweet was exactly that, with more sour than sweet moments for me. In his novel, Timothy Mo shares the story of a Chinese family(wife Lily, Husband Chen, their young son Man Kee and the wife's sister Mui) attempting to build a life together in London, above the Chinese restaurant they've decided to open.

It is within this context that the flat, closed characters begin to take shape and open up, though slowly.

While the characters reveal themselves, we also see another story unfolding with
Mixed feelings about this one...I loved following the lives of the Chen family, although I didn't like Lily for most of the book. The parallel storyline involving the Triads was quite confusing as it went into a lot of details regarding their complex rules and values. However, in the final few chapters (I won't give away what happens as it will spoil the ending) these two storylines were resolved well. The ending was very bittersweet and sad, and a good ending (not all books have them!). Not a ...more
Mar 09, 2016 rated it it was ok
This was part of a reading challenge and was my book recommended by a good friend. I'd certainly never have chosen this booknfor myself and I also wouldn't recommend it.

The story of Chen and Lily was pleasant but the random chapters with gang members made no sense for quite some time and even when I realised why they were there they didn't hold any inteest for me.

Parts of the story weren't really developed well and the end was somewhat abrupt and underwhelming.
Jul 16, 2016 marked it as to-read
* 1000 novels everyone must read: the definitive list: Family and Self

Selected by the Guardian's Review team and a panel of expert judges, this list includes only novels – no memoirs, no short stories, no long poems – from any decade and in any language. Originally published in thematic supplements – love, crime, comedy, family and self, state of the nation, science fiction and fantasy, war and travel – they appear here for the first time.
Dec 22, 2012 rated it liked it
A clever and funny (tongue firmly in cheek) read. I was fascinated by this take on Chinese in England. I don't know what kind of research Mo did and I wonder about how much exoticizing of gangs occurs here. But the read was certainly engaging.

His humor is intriguing. After reading Pure, I remain in awe of his ability to consistently use wit when writing about difficult, hearty, isoteric and sometimes absurd topics or occurrences.
Benjamin Kahn
Jun 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Really liked this book, read it at least 15 years ago so I am having problems remembering the story enough to give it a decent review. I liked the obliviousness and self-sufficiency of Lily, and the self-absorbed nature of the characters. Beyond that, I just remember really enjoying the story.
Nov 02, 2011 rated it liked it
I really liked how the author was able to let the reader see things from the eyes of a chinese immigrant family. It was kind of like culture shock reading about this family and the things they thought were logical from their cultural viewpoint. Definitely an interesting read.
Apr 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
Wondering if you and Arthur liked this one I sent after teaching it in Grenoble. I still think of it fondly and will read it again when I get my copy back and am retired. I liked how the Chinese speech and thought was rendered, among other things.
Lila Kitaeff
Feb 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
About a family that immigrates to London from Hong Kong and starts up their own restaurant. Really fabulous characters, the kind that you miss when you finish the book.
Aug 30, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Excellent atmosphere.
Catherine Woodman
Jul 29, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the first Asian authors I read and loved it--sad but smart and well written
Jan 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
very well-written with vivid and sensitive descriptions of the immigrant life.
Jan 07, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: novel, family, abandoned, asia
Could not get into this story.
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Timothy Peter Mo is an Anglo-Chinese novelist. He is the son of a British mother and a Hong Kong Chinese father. He came to Britain as a 10-year-old.
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