Jan Wong’s new book adds another story to mother-son genre

St. Thomas University journalism professor Jan Wong has published yet another book. 

Apron Strings: Navigating Food and Family in France, Italy, and China isn’t just about food. It’s about adding another book to the mother-son genre besides Oedipus Rex, the story of a Greek king who killed his father and married his mother.

“I could hardly find any books about mothers and sons. That’s why I wanted to write this,” Wong said.

“There’s lots of books about fathers and daughter and mothers and daughters and fathers and sons, but after that, the original mother-son story is Oedipus — it killed the genre.”

On Thursday, Sept. 27 in Kinsella Auditorium, Wong discussed her recently published book to an audience of faculty, friends and former students. Beside exploring her own mother-son relationships, her book delves into the globalization of food trends, the history of food and familial traditions involving food.

Wong came up with the idea for the book when her oldest son Ben announced he was thinking of getting married.

“It just didn’t occur to me that he would ever get married,” she said.

Days later, he tied the knot.

(Sarah Morin/AQ)

“That was the moment I realized I lost my son. I didn’t really lose him, but I was demoted to second place in the hierarchy of women in his life,” Wong said.

“I looked at Sam and I thought, ‘I don’t have any time left. One day he’s just going to call me up and tell me he’s getting married and I won’t even be invited to the wedding.”

So, she asked her youngest son Sam to promise her that she’d be invited to his wedding when the time came.

Sam responded with, “Oh, mom, I forgot to tell you I got married last week.”

Yearning to rekindle that mother-son bond, Wong began brainstorming.

“So, I started thinking what kind of project can I do that will force Sam to eat breakfast, lunch and super with me for many, many days on end?” she said.

Besides her adoration for her sons, Wong’s love of food and cooking were also strong motivations for writing Apron Strings. 

She didn’t know what to expect when she and Sam left for the three-month trip to France, China and Italy to write the book, but while traveling, she had the opportunity to live with, learn and connect with local families.

At the launch, Wong recounted some tales from her journey. She discussed her stay in a farmhouse with a French family who opened up their home to a family of undocumented migrants from Georgia and her excursion with a rich lady in Shanghai who refused to eat lunch and rarely visited her father in the hospital.

“It’s not just a book about cooking. It’s a book about people and families and love and dissension,” she said.

While on the trip, she and Sam had one fight. The argument was about the order of courses to eat first.

“It was so bad … my husband was supposed to come visit us and he said, ‘I’m not coming.'”

She felt she had to include the fight between Sam and her in the book because she had described the lives — and secrets — of the families she stayed with.

She said the writing of the book went perfectly and, in the end, all the pieces of her journey connected smoothly.

“It’s wonderful to write a book, but it’s even better when people read.”

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