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July 25, 2013

Book Notes - Jen Lin-Liu "On the Noodle Road"

On the Noodle Road

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Jen Lin-Liu's On the Noodle Road impresses as a memoir, but also works as travelogue, treatise on cultural anthropology, and even cookbook (the included recipes alone make this a must-read).

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Lin-Liu made a point of invading the kitchens of her hosts and local cooks, and she was amazed at similarities between regional noodle dishes and rustic Italian food; appalled or pleasantly surprised by strange ingredients; and, from yurt to hovel, delighted by the local hospitality. Lin-Liu’s journey is a bold palate-awakening adventure, endearingly rendered."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In her own words, here is Jen Lin-Liu's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir, On the Noodle Road:

In my new book On the Noodle Road, my husband and I travel overland from China to Italy as I cook and search for the answer to where noodles were invented. The setting of the book evolves dramatically: we begin in the bustling back alleys of Beijing before moving on to the caravanserai (camel way-stations) in green pastures and deserts of Central Asia, the teahouses and mosques of Iran, the bazaars and kebab houses of Turkey, and the pizzerias and trattorias of Italy. All the while, I invite myself into home kitchens and learn recipes and stories from ordinary women from east to west. The book is divided into five geographical sections, and I've arranged my musical selections accordingly:


"La Fille de Pekin" by Frédérick Rousseau

It's easy to find stereotypical zither music or screeching Peking opera tunes that represent China, but I didn't want my playlist to begin that way. So I chose a song off the popular music compilation "Buddha Bar" – this song is on the "Ten Year" volume. It's a nice representation of east and west, the main theme of the book. Having grown up in America but having been raised by Chinese immigrant parents, I've always had to struggle with ideas of east and west, and this personal dichotomy was one major impetus for me wanting to take a 7,000 mile journey on the Silk Road.

Central Asia

"Distant Green Valley" and "Night at the Caravanserai" by Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble
It's an obvious choice to have something from Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble on my playlist. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, after being enthralled with Silk Road musicians and their instruments, began collaborating with some very talents artists and has toured around America with them. These songs fit perfectly with the mood of Central Asia – haunting, romantic, and remote. My husband and I spend many wonderful nights in the green mountains of Kyrgyzstan sleeping in yurts and tents and waking up to meals of fresh clotted cream with Russian blini.

Mystery Central Asia Polka-Disco Song
I need help from our readers for my second Central Asia selection. While in Central Asia (this is the fall of 2010), I hear this song everywhere – from the teahouses to the nightclubs to the speakers in the Russian-make Lada taxicabs. The song sounds vaguely Eastern-European, has a rather quick polka-like syncopated beat, and a horn section. We see Central Asians dancing to it nearly everywhere. I'm sorry I don't remember the name of the tune, as it will drive me crazy to my deathbed that I never got the name of the song!


Music by Hamed Maleklou
We drive across Iran in a small sedan with a guide who plays the music of Hamed Maleklou and other Iranian pop musicians. The drives across the country are long and we pass through a lot of desert so this kind of Persian disco music and lots of strong black tea with sugar keep us going.

"I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor
My second selection for Iran plays in the car of an Iranian man who befriends us. He sings along to "I Will Survive" while blaring it full blast from his car speakers. I later learn that we could have been hauled off by the morality police for playing music as loudly as we had. It is also a perfect anthem for Iranians, who have all kinds of personal limitations placed on them by the Islamic government.


"Allaho Akbar" by Manish Vyas
Whirling dervishes and spiritual sufism are a large part of Turkish culture so I chose a Sufi meditation and dance song called "Allaho Akbar" to pair with the Turkey section of my book.

"Off the Wall" by Michael Jackson
The second selection, which couldn't be more different, is a song that plays in the kitchen of a high-end restaurant called Asitane that I spend time in. The young kitchen staff – headed by a 26-year-old woman named Bengi – occasionally breaks out into dance, showing that cooking can be fun, even in a high-pressured environment.


"Nessun Dorma" from Puccini's Turandot sung by Luciano Pavarotti
My arrival in Rome, after a 7,000 mile journey, can only be summed up with Nessum Dorma. My husband and I have endured nine months of being on the road. I've cooked with dozens of women in their homes. I've looked into various stories and myths about noodle than span east to west. And finally, I've made it to the western terminus of the Silk Road.

"Ice Cream" by Sarah McLachlan
This goes with one of the last scenes in my book, when my husband surprises me with a tour of Rome's best gelato shops. I have a serious obsession with gelato that only Craig understands, and this song accurately describes not how I feel about ice cream but also my husband.

Jen Lin-Liu and On the Noodle Road links:

excerpt from the book

Chicago Tribune review
Entertainment Weekly review
Los Angeles Times review
New York Journal of Books review
Publishers Weekly review

Bon Appetit interview with the author
Library Journal interview with the author
Weekend Edition interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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