a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Author steals your heart and leaves you hungry

It wouldn’t be a good idea to read “Stealing Buddha’s Dinner” on an empty stomach.

Author Bich Minh Nguyen uses food deliciously to set the stage for her memoirs of childhood adjustment as a tiny Vietnamese refugee living among a sea of tall, blue-eyed and blond white children in Grand Rapids, Mich.

While pondering whether she should keep practicing her Vietnamese or share her family traditions with her classmates, she took a bite from a sticky sweet rice cake and felt like an outcast. “It tasted like a secret long kept, old and familiar and unspeakable,” she noted in the 2007 book that is new in paperback form.

Her father married a Mexican immigrant, further complicating the tensions in her overcrowded home. She longed for her new mom to bake pies like the perfect mothers in television commercials for Duncan Hines products. But, hers baked overcooked blueberry pies in store-bought shells that no one ate.

A times, she recalled her childhood between bites of shrimp and pork spring rolls and sweet, juicy fruit pulled from the family altar to Buddha and ancestors. Other days, she reflected her struggles to become an American between trips to a Ponderosa steakhouse.

She won the battle in her first book, not only by coming to terms with her individuality but by delivering a wonderful story about a family’s survival of the painful Vietnam War era in a land of junk food.

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