Thursday, April 24, 2008


The Book of Salt, Monique Truong, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003, 261 pp

I completely enjoyed my time in this novel because it was unique in many ways. Binh is a self-displaced Vietnamese living in Paris and working at 27 rue de Fleurus as cook for Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas. He fled Vietnam five years earlier in disgrace and constantly has the voice of his mentally abusive father ringing in his head. Who has not experienced that internalized critic, speaking up at odd times to remind you how badly you are doing?

Binh's search is for love, in Paris and throughout his life. He always had his mother's love and she inhabits The Book of Salt like a patron saint. As he roams the streets of Paris and the bridges over the Seine, Binh pieces together the story of his life so far through memory and what I loved was the way Truong's writing drew me into those memories as if I was Binh's mind.

Some years ago I read Charmed Circle, by James R Mellow, a book I had picked up in a used bookstore somewhere which told the story of Gertrude Stein's life. From that I was familiar with her salon in Paris, her life with Alice B Toklas and the many artists and writers with whom Stein surrounded herself. Reading The Book of Salt took me back to all that and Binh's witty descriptions of his "madame and madame" are priceless.

I could go on but I would like other readers to be as surprised and captivated as I was reading this book, which while never boring for a second, is more like a meditation than anything else. I checked and could not find any other books by Monique Truong. I wish there were.

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