The Book of Salt

The Book of Salt

[a Novel]

Book - 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.
Publisher: Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2003
ISBN: 9780618304004
0618304002
Branch Call Number: TRUO 21
Characteristics: 261 p

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gauchetal
Nov 11, 2015

I found the story over narrated, slow paced with minimal plot. The prose was dense and at times came across as pretentious with confusing flashbacks that weren't easy to identify in place or time. Binh the Vietnamese cook doesn't speak english but quotes conversations between Gertrude Stein and Alice B Tolkais? He himself as a persona is hard to know, feel empathy for and even care about.

Jane60201 Jun 14, 2014

I really liked the writing in this book. One of the best I've read recently.

m
ms_mustard
Feb 09, 2014

Having read The Paris Wife, I checked this book out thinking I would find out more about the Stein/Toklas salons in the Paris of that day. Instead this novel introduces a Vietnamese immigrant chef as employee and observer of this famous duo with a story of his own to tell. a sensually told tale.

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