The Book of Salt
author : monique truong
pages : [paperback] 272
memorable quote : I am forced to admit that I am, to them, nothing but a series of destinations with no meaningful expanses in between.
Binh, a Vietnamese cook, flees Saigon in 1929, disgracing his family to serve as galley hand at sea. The taunts of his now-deceased father ringing in his ears, Binh answers an ad for a live-in cook at a Parisian household, and soon finds himself employed by Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.
Toklas and Stein hold court in their literary salon, for which the devoted yet acerbic Binh serves as chef, and as a keen observer of his “Mesdames” and their distinguished guests. But when the enigmatic literary ladies decide to journey back to America, Binh is faced with a monumental choice: will he, the self-imposed “exile,” accompany them to yet another new country, return to his native Vietnam, or make Paris his home?
This book wasn’t very interesting to me, though I think that it had a lot of potential because the characters were fairly intriguing. Much of it talks about cooking, which I don’t have much interest in, so many of the metaphors were lost to me there. While I think that there are other readers who may enjoy this book more than I did, I won’t be recommending it.
Binh has been training to be a chef since he was six years old. Throughout his entire life he’s been looking down on and told by his father that he was a worthless disappointment. Because he only serves French people, either in his homeland of Vietnam or in Paris, he’s looked down on for his race as well. Never in his life has he been treated well or even as an equal. He also faces inner turmoil as he is gay, yet obviously in that time he couldn’t openly express himself. Instead it is another aspect of himself that he must hide, keeping him forever the outsider in any social circle.
While the writing was fairly interesting, it could get confusing. Truong would introduce one point that Binh would talk around for a while before circling back to the original purpose of the story, the conversation or thought that sparked his little tirade. Half of the time it was difficult for me to find out whether he was situated in Vietnam or Paris. He skips around his timeline when telling these stories of himself and I couldn’t keep track of what was happening where.
Thus this book needs a little patience, though that patience ended up taking me nowhere. I wasn’t satisfied with the ending of the book, though it did provide another quirk of character that I really enjoyed. The plot just wasn’t up to supporting the characters that this story could have held. Perhaps if it had taken a different approach, I would have loved it.