The book of salt

Front Cover
Chatto & Windus, Jun 26, 2003 - Fiction - 261 pages
19 Reviews
"[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 Cookbook that inspired The Book of Salt, a brilliant first novel by a talented young Vietnamese American writer about the taste of exile.Paris, 1934, 'Thin Bin', as they call him, has accompanied his employers, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, to the 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? Binh 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 personal cook at the famous apartment on the rue de Fleurus.Before Binh's decision is revealed, we are catapulted back to his youth inFrench-colonized Indo China, where he learned to cook in the embassy kitchens, his years as a galley hand at sea, and his days turning out fragrant repasts for the doyennes of the Lost Generation. Binh knows far more than what the Steins eat: he knows their routines and intimacies, their food and follies. With wry insight, we see Stein and Toklas ensconced in rueful domesticity. But is Binh's account reliable? A lost soul, he is a late-night habitué of the Paris demi-monde, an exile and an alien, a man of musings, memories, and possibly lies, susceptible to drink and occasional self-mutilation with a kitchen knife... 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 and more recently with risk to Stein's manuscript notebooks.Intricate, compelling, and witty, the novel weaves in historical characters, from Stein and Toklas to Paul Robeson and Ho Chi Minh, with remarkable originality. Tastes, oceans, sweat, tears -- The Book of Salt is an inspired novel about food and exile, love and betrayal.

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Review: The Book of Salt

User Review  - Reese (whimsicalbibliophile) - Goodreads

The prose is definitely beautiful. I really enjoyed the culinary imagery that leaks into every aspect of Binh's descriptions; it was very different from your typical imagery, something I haven't been ... Read full review

Review: The Book of Salt

User Review  - Cherie - Goodreads

I would like to say that I liked it more, but I just can't. I feel pretty well read, but this story is a mystery of wandering thoughts. Some parts flowed nicely and others were very disjointed and ... Read full review


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