The Book of Salt
By Monique Truong
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hardcover, 9780618304004, 272pp.)
Publication Date: April 2003
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"[He] came to us through an advertisement that I had in desperation put in the newspaper. It began captivatingly for those days: 'Two American ladies wish . . .' " It was these lines in The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book that inspired The Book of Salt, a brilliant first novel by acclaimed Vietnamese American writer Monique Truong.
In Paris, in 1934, Bính has accompanied his employers, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, to the train station for their departure to America. His own destination is unclear: will he go with "the Steins," stay in France, or return to his native Vietnam? Bính has fled his homeland in disgrace, leaving behind his malevolent charlatan of a father and his self-sacrificing mother. For five years, he has been the live-in cook at the famous apartment at 27 rue de Fleurus. Before Bính's decision is revealed, his mesmerizing narrative catapults us back to his youth in French-colonized Vietnam, his years as a galley hand at sea, and his days turning out fragrant repasts for the doyennes of the Lost Generation.
Bính knows far more than the contents of the Steins' pantry: he knows their routines and intimacies, their manipulations and follies. With wry insight, he views Stein and Toklas ensconced in blissful domesticity. But is Bính's account reliable? A lost soul, he is a late-night habitué of the Paris demimonde, an exile and an alien, a man of musings and memories, and, possibly, lies. Love is the prize that has eluded him, from his family to the men he has sought out in his far-flung journeys, often at his peril. Intricate, compelling, and witty, the novel weaves in historical characters, from Stein and Toklas to Paul Robeson and Ho Chi Minh, with remarkable originality. Flavors, seas, sweat, tears The Book of Salt is an inspired feast of storytelling riches.
Monique Truong was born in Saigon in 1968 and moved to the United States at age six. She graduated from Yale University and the Columbia University School of Law, going on to specialize in intellectual property. Truong coedited the anthology Watermark: Vietnamese American Poetry and Prose. Her first novel,The Book of Salt, a national bestseller, has been awarded the 2003 Bard Fiction Prize, the Stonewall Book Award-Barbara Gittings Literature Award, and the Young Lions Fiction Award, among other honors. Granting Truong an Award of Excellence, the Vietnamese American Studies Center at San Francisco State University called her "a pioneer in the field, as an academic, an advocate, and an artist." Truong now lives in Brooklyn, New York.
- “Gertrude Stein thinks it is unfathomably erotic that the food she is about to eat has been washed, pared, kneaded, touched, by the hands of her lover.” How is food — and cooking — used as seduction in The Book of Salt? Compare the meals between Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas with the meals Bính shares with Sweet Sunday Man and the man on the bridge. How is the reader also seduced or persuaded by these meals? Have you ever wooed someone with what you fed them?
"A tour de force. Truong should take literate America by storm."
Kirkus Reviews, Starred
"A debut novel of pungent sensuousness and intricate, inspired imagination." -Elle Elle
"Both eloquent and original, The Book of Salt is a savory read." -Entertainment Weekly Entertainment Weekly
"...fascinating first novel.. Truong's birthplace...is evoked here with piercing yearning and authenticity..." -The New York Times Book Review The New York Times Book Review
"...seductive tale of exile, memory, sex, identity, language, the sins of colonialism and the social and cultural politics of food." -The Miami Herald The Miami Herald
"[The Book of Salt] displays its author's supple imagination on every page." - The Los Angeles Times The Los Angeles Times
"If Monique Truong's stunning debut novel, The Book of Salt, doesn't win as many accolades as Jhumpa Lahiri's The Interpreter of Maladies, then the literary world needs new lenses through which to view Asian-American literature." - Out.com Out Magazine
"...Food and story-lovers alike will delight in this beautifully written and spellbinding story." -The Baltimore Sun The Baltimore Sun
" Dazzling...An exquisite, lyrical, challenging and funny debut by a writer to keep an eye on." -San Jose Mercury News 10 Best Books of the Year
San Jose Mercury News
"This sumptuous debut weaves cooking, language, cravings, and cruelty around a pseudo-historical figure." -The Village Voice Top 25 Books of the Year The Village Voice