Monday, August 01, 2016

Monique Truong's 'The Book of Salt:' Take One

Monique Truong's The Book of Salt (2003, 2004) takes her readers into the 1920s and 1930s milieu of French Indochina (Indochine française) and France through the eyes of a gay Vietnamese cook working in three spheres: the Governor-General's house, on board ocean-crossing ships, and in the service of two Americans-in-France -- Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. A novel that is both absorbing and consciousness-raising, The Book of Salt delivers.

Truong writes in vivid detail of both food and social relationships. We see Binh's family system (particularly his place in relation to his father, mother, and brother Minh), Binh's friendships with fellow travelers, and his arc of time working for the intense and fussy Stein and Toklas.  

Several characters tell stories, usually short ones, throughout the novel, with Binh commenting upon their style and manner. "That, for Bão, was of course the whole point of telling the basket weaver’s story. No matter who else may be present, Bão was the hero in all of his stories" (page 56). Don't we all know storytellers who put themselves in the starring role as hero?

Binh enjoyed, as a kid, his mother's creativity in storytelling; her tales rarely remained the same over time:  “While my mother’s hands followed a set routine, her stories never did. They were free to roam, to consider alternative routes, to invent their own ways home, especially in the retelling" (page 81). And: "For my mother and me, the story of Father Augustine was like any other, a thing to be repeated and retold. A story, after all, is best when shared, a gift in the truest sense of the word" (page 165). 
The Book of Salt is such a gift. 

Today's Rune: Signals. 


Charles Gramlich said...

Sounds like a really interesting experience and a person perfectly suited for giving us an unusual view.

the walking man said...

If I can't be the hero in every story I tell then I would have to leave it to someone else to tell the telling of it. My wife won't let me cook so there is no heroism there. But I will admit that when it comes to a wide variety of different subkect material read--you are my hero.

Erik Donald France said...

Cheers, y'all. Shucks, Walking Man :->