Author Roselle Lim gives voice to the Filipino-Chinese

‘Speak your truth and it will find an audience.’ Website photo

By Lynn Alejandrino-Topel

Aspiring Filipino authors take inspiration and hope in the number of published works by writers of Asian descent. One such author is Roselle Lim. Her first book entitled “Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune” has spawned a second book in the same universe called “Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop” which is due for release this summer. Her books feature characters, settings, and elements from both her Filipino and Chinese heritage.

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Her journey to published author status was not easy. It took her 10 years, seven manuscripts, a change of agents, a switch in literary genre, and multiple revisions before finally seeing her first book out in print in January 2020. Her books allowed her to give a voice to the Filipino-Chinese whose traditions are subtly different from mainland Chinese and distinct from the Filipinos they grew up with.

Though her family migrated to Canada when she was just 10 years old, she has been able to keep up with many traditions. She said in an interview with The FilAm,  “My family held tight to our mishmash of Chinese and Filipino customs. We always had our food and continued to practice our own brand of Catholicism mixed with Chinese beliefs. My parents learned English, but continued to speak Hokkien and Tagalog at home. It helped that most of my mother’s family had also moved to Toronto. We gathered every week to eat, talk, and play mahjong.”

Even with the presence and support of family, moving to a new country is not without its challenges. Though English is taught in Philippine schools, Roselle’s teachers in Canada “questioned” her command of the language. She took this to heart which led her to think that she “could never be good enough.”  On top of that, she had to learn French—which was “Greek” to her. Her dreams to become an author were set aside as she dived into arts and crafts instead. But the nagging desire to put words on paper remained, and she was able to work with a therapist to lift the “artificial limitations” she had imposed on herself.

It took 10 years, seven manuscripts, a change of agents, and multiple revisions before seeing her first book ‘Natalie Tan’ published. ‘Vanessa Yu’ followed shortly after.

Roselle honestly explained, “It’s a daily battle against self-doubt. Some days I win the battle. Some days I don’t. But each day, I again face off against my inner critic.”

Her first book tackles anxiety and depression which are often taboo subjects in many Filipino-Chinese households.

In her latest book, Vanessa Yu travels from the familiarity and comforts of her Palo Alto community to enter into a quest for understanding her gift of fortune-telling. Under the tutelage of her Aunt Evelyn (a supporting character in the first book), she learns more about her secretive aunt and discovers that she may not always fight fate but fate always finds a way to fix things in the end. In both books, Roselle adds magical elements.

“I feel that magic exists in ordinary life. I’ve lived with Chinese superstitions, and this is an extension of it. My grandmother fed me stories about women spirits who separated their bodies and about flying vampires who feasted on internal organs. Whether it’s driven by fear or wonder, believing that magic exists makes life more colorful and a little more awesome,” she said.

Food is another common thread in her stories. In the first book, Natalie Tan introduces readers to many Filipino and Chinese dishes, while in the second book, Vanessa Yu explores all that Paris haute cuisine and patisseries have to offer. This line from her first book seems to explain why food is such an important part of her writings: “Food possessed the power to evoke memories. I associated every dish with a moment of my life. Nothing transported me faster and more vividly.”

When asked what her favorite dish is, she replied, “A bowl of salted duck egg congee served with noodle-covered oil sticks (youtiao). I crave this Chinese dish every fall and winter. It’s the perfect warm hug.” And for dessert, “My favorite Filipino food is the cake of my dreams: sans rival. It’s perfect! Crushed cashews, rich buttercream, and fluffy meringue layers! There’s nothing else like it. I order a whole cake as a birthday gift to myself each year.”

Roselle has this to say for aspiring writers: “Write your truth…Your story is a living, breathing entity waiting to be in the world. Have courage. Know that your voice is important and that if you speak your truth it will find an audience.”

Lynn Alejandrino-Topel is a Maryland-based public school teacher and a mother of twin boys. She graduated from Ateneo de Manila University and when not teaching, she writes about local food eats as well as travel tips for visitors to the Washington, D.C. area. Contact her through her website

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© The FilAm 2020

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