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
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
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.
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