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Stealing Buddha's Dinner | [Bich Minh Nguyen]

Stealing Buddha's Dinner

As a Vietnamese girl coming of age in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Bich Nguyen is filled with a rapacious hunger for American identity. In the pre-PC-era Midwest, where the devoutly Christian blond-haired, blue-eyed Jennifers and Tiffanys reign supreme, the barely conscious desire to belong transmutes into a passion for American food.
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Audible Editor Reviews

This enthralling, funny-sad memoir, so exactingly observed by author Bich Minh Nguyen, chronicles her coming of age in Grand Rapids, Michigan, as a shrimpy, owlish immigrant child of the '80s. Bich's moody father, the haunted architect of his family's flight from Saigon in 1975, is a "Vietnamese Arthur Murray". He toils at a feather factory, coming home every night with down in his hair. Smart-alecky Rosa is Bich's decent stepmother, a second-generation Mexican-American who mortifies her kids by snapping off threats like, "you're cruisin' for a bruisin'".

Bich's droopy home perms, her longing for a mother who bakes banana bread, and her phase of speaking in a British schoolmarm's accent (she is a fool for Mary Poppins ) all translate into a compulsive search for identity. But only her grandmother Noi, a gentle, silvery Buddhist who quietly stirs marrowy pots of pho feathered with cilantro in the kitchen, is present enough to listen. Even when the sound limping out is a drippy Vietnamese new wave cover band committed to Depeche Mode.

Stealing Buddha's Dinner is a tenderhearted homage to the musty dried fish and sandalwood smells of Asian grocery stores, and to moon boots spackled with snow. Narrator Alice H. Kennedy is an insightful, unshowy reader with a nimble voice as clear as jasmine tea. Even this reverent, prayerful reading — "i loved to strip away the pebbled skin of a lychee and pop the translucent eyeball into my mouth" — shines the light back on Bich. Kennedy, with her Vietnamese-accented English, may or may not share Bich's "immigrant's dilemma", i don't know. Maybe in the end, she just gets, as Bich does, that the outcome of life is not always judged by what you pack for lunch. —Nita Rao

Publisher's Summary

As a Vietnamese girl coming of age in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Bich Nguyen is filled with a rapacious hunger for American identity. In the pre-PC-era Midwest, where the devoutly Christian blond-haired, blue-eyed Jennifers and Tiffanys reign supreme, the barely conscious desire to belong transmutes into a passion for American food. More exotic-seeming than her Buddhist grandmother's traditional specialties - spring rolls; delicate pancakes stuffed with meats, herbs, and bean sprouts; fried shrimp cakes - the campy, preservative-filled "delicacies" of mainstream America capture her imagination. And in this remarkable book, the glossy branded allure of such American foods as Pringles, Kit Kats, and Toll House cookies becomes an ingenious metaphor for her struggle to fit in, to become a "real" American, a distinction that brings with it the dream of the perfect school lunch, burgers and Jell-O for dinner, and a visit from the Kool-Aid man.

Beginning with Nguyen's family's harrowing migration out of Saigon in 1975, Stealing Buddha's Dinner is also a portrayal of a diverse family: Nguyen's hardworking, hard-partying father, pretty sister, and wise and nurturing grandmother - and Rosa, her Latina stepmother, the loving, no-nonsense foil to her gastronomical and materialistic fixations. And there is the mystery of Nguyen's birth mother, unveiled movingly over the course of the book.

Nostalgic and candid, deeply satisfying and minutely observed, Stealing Buddha's Dinner is a unique vision of the immigrant experience and a lyrical ode to how identity is often shaped by the things we long for.

©2009 Brilliance Audio, Inc.; ©2008 Bich Minh Nguyen

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  •  
    Sindi 04-18-10
    Sindi 04-18-10 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
    65
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    "Don't both"

    3/4 way through and nothing is happening yet. I work with ESL students and wanted some insight into their new life in USA. This isn't it.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Patricia Roscommon, MI, USA 10-25-09
    Patricia Roscommon, MI, USA 10-25-09
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    "As a native of Grand Rapids,"

    As a native of Grand Rapids, I love the accurate descriptions of the culture. Sadly, I did not feel compelled to finish listening as the descriptions of food became long. It may be I had too many distractions to listening.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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