Stealing Buddha’s Dinner – Book Review

Stealing Buddha's Dinner coverStealing Buddha’s Dinner is a memoir by Bich Minh Nguyen, teacher of Asian American literature, creative nonfiction, and fiction at Purdue University. Nguyen’s father, sister, grandmother, and uncles left Vietnam the night before the fall of Saigon. After spending some time in the Philippines, the received a sponsor in Grand Rapids, MI to come to the United States, where Bich’s father eventually met and married Rosa, a woman of Mexican heritage. Growing up in a bi-cultural family was difficult for Bich in white, middle-class (as it was at the time) Grand Rapids. Her family’s food, traditions, and ways of thinking were markedly different from those of her not-so-understanding classmates.

The book was definitely different than I expected. I committed the age-old sin of judging the book by its cover and believed that the book would focus predominantly Nguyen’s rejection of her family’s culture through a desire for American junk food and distaste for traditional food. This was both not quite accurate and not quite as predominant a theme as I had guessed. Nguyen’s desire for ‘American’ food seems to be more about understanding and wanting to fit in with her peers. She definitely does not reject the food her grandmother makes, she simply seems to wish that her family could also eat pork chops, roasts, and hamburger helper.

This book was organized differently from most of the memoirs I’ve been reading lately. There was only a very general narrative flow. Nguyen began at the ‘beginning’ and ended at the ‘end’, but the middle chapters jumped around a good bit, organized more by theme than by chronology. This could have easily gotten annoying and was, at some points, slightly confusing, but Bich generally did a good job at providing ages or other sign posts to indicate where you were in her story. The beginning of the book was definitely stronger than the end – there is a conclusion that you as a reader are not really prepared for in the book and isn’t fully explained. However, it is perhaps more authentic that way, it does not seem that Bich was prepared for this resolution either, although I’m not totally sure how it enriched her story of a child’s immigrant experience. Overall I enjoyed this book; it was a fast and engaging read.

Buy this book on Amazon: Stealing Buddha’s Dinner: A Memoir

Tags: , , , ,

4 Responses to “Stealing Buddha’s Dinner – Book Review”

  1. rantsandreads Says:

    If you want to keep the theme going, I recommend Monkey Bridge by Lan Cao.

    It’s also a fictional novel of a young Vietnamese girl moving to the US just before the communist occupation of Saigon in 1975.

  2. Devourer of Books Says:

    That sounds interesting. Another one for the wishlist!

  3. Reading Frustration « Devourer of Books’ Weblog Says:

    […] Devourer of Books’ Weblog Memoirs of a Ravenous Reader « Stealing Buddha’s Dinner – Book Review […]

  4. Literate Housewife Says:

    Having grown up in the same area of GR during the same time period, I really enjoyed the first half of this memoir. The disorganization got to me by the end, though. When she seemly lost focus, I lost interest. I really enjoyed the portions about her grandmother. I am as equally glad that I read (most of) it as I am that I rented it from the public library.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: