STEALING BUDDHA’S DINNER by Bich Minh Nguyen

STEALING BUDDHA’S DINNER

A Memoir
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A childhood immigration memoir for foodies.

Nguyen’s father fled Vietnam with his two daughters when Nguyen was just a baby. Sponsored by a family in Grand Rapids, Mich., the Nguyens began to adjust to life in a “pale city,” dominated by conservative Christians and blonde Republicans. Nguyen explores her relationship with her new home through food: As a girl, she longed for and fantasized about the packaged goods that fill American grocery stores. One of her earliest discoveries was Pringles—the red tube in which the chips sit snuggly—which captivated her. When, as a girl, Nguyen began to read the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder, she marveled at the descriptions of butchering hogs and making cheese, activities that seemed to encapsulate the American frontier experience. She contrasts her own stepmother, Rosa, with the mothers of her school chums: Real mothers cook things like pot roast; real mothers bake Toll House cookies in the afternoon; real mothers send their daughters to school with lunches packed neatly in Tupperware containers. Rosa, a hard-working schoolteacher, was too busy to be Betty Crocker, and the family usually dined on simple Vietnamese food, often cooked by Nguyen’s grandmother. Nguyen finally went on strike, refusing to eat until her grandmother and stepmother agreed to “better” food. This gastronomic theme sometimes feels forced, but some of the author’s prose is lovely and her imagery fresh. And in her recreation of a world populated by Family Ties, Ritz crackers and Judy Blume books, she has captured the 1980s with perfection.

Nguyen’s not in the class of, say, Richard Rodriguez; nonetheless, this debut suggests she’s a writer to watch.

Pub Date: Feb. 5th, 2007
ISBN: 0-670-03832-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2006




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