While we chose The Book of Salt because it included the most famous couple in lesbian history, we loved it because of Binh. The story is really about Binh: how he learned from and loved his devoted mother, how he escaped from an abusive father and scandal in Vietnam, how he survived a difficult and prolonged sea voyage to land in Paris and eventually gained his position as cook for Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in France. Most importantly, it’s a story of how he found and lost love, lived to tell the tale and remained intact and ever-hopeful.
Binh tells his story through randomized flashbacks in language that is always beautiful, compelling, effusive and is often just this side of poetry, particularly in the five star gourmet cooking metaphors and references: the rising sun becomes a fresh “lemon tart” in Binh’s world. When Binh goes to work for his brother in the kitchen of the French Governor General, he describes the collision of French colonialism with Vietnamese culture best in the description of the power play asserted regularly by the mistress’ demand that everything be “as if in France!” And when the head chef leaves suddenly, Binh’s experienced, devoted and talented brother is not considered for the position he covets; an attractive and seductive young Frenchman joins the household instead. And here is where the trouble starts, but also how Binh gets launched on the culinary adventure that becomes his life. And it is through the life of Binh that Monique Truong creates a compelling story that is sumptuous in its sensual detail and authenticity allowing the combinations of culture and history, sex and sexuality, racism and prejudice to present themselves without criticism or apology while whisking eggs, folding butter and steaming milk.
April Brown is a voracious reader for whom writing reviews provides an excellent cover story for the tower of books leaning toward her chaise lounge. She is currently working on two books and slacking off on her blog, http://fearlessspirituality.blogspot.com.
April works as a corporate trainer with almost twenty years of experience training everything from HIV/AIDS prevention programs for incarcerated youth in Virginia to health insurance continuing education.