Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop
- Author: Roselle Lim
- Publisher: Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House (New York)
- Publication Date: August 4, 2020
- Genre: Multicultural Interest; Fiction, 320 pages
Vanessa Yu is a 27-year-old accountant from Palo Alto, California who possesses the gift of seeing people’s fortunes by reading tea leaves. After seeing someone’s misfortune at the bottom of a cup, Vanessa decides that she no longer wants this supernatural ability. Her enigmatic Aunt Evelyn, who also has the rare gift of clairvoyance, offers to help Vanessa get rid of her special skill. Aunt Evelyn invites Vanessa to stay with her for three weeks in Paris, where she is in the process of opening a tea shop.
Unlike similar novels set in the City of Light, Vanessa does not have an overly romanticized notion of Paris — I found her perspective refreshing! As a Francophile, I certainly appreciate that this novel was set in Paris, but the story could have taken place anywhere in the world.
In a way, the novel does take you around the world — through food! The book is filled with flavorful descriptions of various cuisines, including Chinese (char siu bao, or steamed BBQ buns), Filipino (sinigang, or tamarind-based stew), Vietnamese (gỏi cuốn, or spring rolls), and Italian (cacio e pepe, or cheese and pepper pasta). In Paris, Vanessa enjoys an assortment of iconic French treats, including buttery croissants, crispy tuiles aux amandes, and decadent mille-feuille.
So very sweet – much like how Vanessa is with her large family. They say “I love you” to each other so much though that it sometimes borders on saccharine. It was mind-boggling at times because Vanessa often seemed annoyed by her family, especially her meddling aunties.
But Aunt Evelyn is the exception. It’s clear that Vanessa has great respect for her. As the story progresses, Aunt Evelyn opens her heart, making her more likable.
I also liked how vivid descriptions of symbols, like red threads of fate, sudden gusts of wind, and Menelaus blue morpho butterflies give the novel a dream-like quality. Although the tropical blue butterfly specified is not likely to appear in Europe, you’ll believe it’s possible. That’s magical realism for you!
Overall, this breezy novel is a welcome escape from the pandemic lockdown doldrums. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys art, romance, cultural traditions, food, tea, and Paris, bien sûr!
About the author
Roselle Lim was born in the Philippines and immigrated to Canada as a child. She found her love of writing by listening to her paternal Lola’s (grandmother) stories about Filipino folktales. Growing up in a household where Chinese superstition mingled with Filipino Catholicism, she devoured books about mythology, which shaped the fantasies in her novels. She has a degree in humanities and history from York University in Toronto.