Stealing Buddha's Dinner

( 14 )

Overview

As a Vietnamese girl coming of age in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Nguyen is filled with a rapacious hunger for American identity, and in the pre-PC-era Midwest (where the Jennifers and Tiffanys reign supreme), the desire to belong transmutes into a passion for American food. More exotic- seeming than her Buddhist grandmother's traditional specialties, the campy, preservative-filled "delicacies" of mainstream America capture her imagination.

In Stealing Buddha's Dinner, the glossy ...

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Stealing Buddha's Dinner

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Overview

As a Vietnamese girl coming of age in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Nguyen is filled with a rapacious hunger for American identity, and in the pre-PC-era Midwest (where the Jennifers and Tiffanys reign supreme), the desire to belong transmutes into a passion for American food. More exotic- seeming than her Buddhist grandmother's traditional specialties, the campy, preservative-filled "delicacies" of mainstream America capture her imagination.

In Stealing Buddha's Dinner, the glossy branded allure of Pringles, Kit Kats, and Toll House Cookies becomes an ingenious metaphor for Nguyen's struggle to become a "real" American, a distinction that brings with it the dream of the perfect school lunch, burgers and Jell- O for dinner, and a visit from the Kool-Aid man. Vivid and viscerally powerful, this remarkable memoir about growing up in the 1980s introduces an original new literary voice and an entirely new spin on the classic assimilation story.

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Editorial Reviews

Chicago Tribune
I believe that Nguyen is a writer to watch, a tremendous talent with a gift for gorgeous sentences.
USA Today
Her typical and not-so-typical childhood experiences give her story a universal flavor.
Emily Carter
Nguyen brings back moments and sensations with such vivid clarity that readers will find themselves similarly jolted back in time. She's a sensuous writer -- colors and textures weave together in her work to create a living fabric. This book should be bought and read anytime your soul hungers for bright language and close observation.
The Star Tribune
San Francisco Chronicle
Relevant not only to anyone who's ever lusted after the perfect snack . . . but anyone who's ever felt like an outsider.
Minneapolis Star Tribune
She's a sensuous writer -- colors and textures weave together in her work to create a living fabric.
New York Times Book Review
... a charming memoir from a Vietnamese immigrant Bich Minh Nguyen...Her prose is engaging, precise, compact...
The Hartford Courant
[Nguyen] makes the inability to fit in...a gracefully told remembrance that mixes the amusing and the touching to wonderful effect.
The New York Times Book Review
A charming memoir . . . Her prose is engaging, precise, compact.
Publishers Weekly

Nguyen was just eight months old when her father brought her and her sister out of Vietnam in 1975. The family relocated in Michigan, where young Bich (pronounced "bic") wrestled with conflicting desires for her grandmother's native cooking and the American junk food the "real people" around her ate. The fascination with Pringles and Happy Meals is one symptom of the memoir's frequent reliance on the surface details of pop culture to generate verisimilitude instead of digging deeper into the emotional realities of her family drama, which plays out as her father drinks and broods and her stepmother, Rosa, tries to maintain a tight discipline. Readers are inundated with the songs Nguyen heard on the radio and the TV shows she watched—even her childhood thoughts about Little House on the Prairie—but tantalizing questions about her family remain unresolved, like why her father and stepmother continued to live together after their divorce. The mother left behind in Saigon is a shadowy presence who only comes into view briefly toward the end, another line of inquiry Nguyen chooses not to pursue too deeply. The passages that most intensely describe Nguyen's childhood desire to assimilate compensate somewhat for such gaps, but the overall impression is muted. (Feb. 5)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal

Winner of the 2005 PEN/Jerard Fund Award, this first book by Nguyen (literature & creative writing, Purdue Univ.) is a compelling story of a Vietnamese immigrant growing up in Grand Rapids, MI, during the 1980s. One-year-old Nguyen left her native country in April 1975 with her father, sister, grandmother Noi, and two uncles. After staying in refugee camps in Guam and Arkansas, the family soon arrived in Grand Rapids, where Nguyen's father mets Rosa, a Latina woman whom he soon married. Much of Nguyen's memoir is about food—Pringles, ice cream, and Kit Kats—and her efforts to become an all-American girl. Only at the end of the book does Nguyen reveal what she finally discovered about her birth mother, who had remained in Vietnam. A poignant tale of growing up in two cultures and the important role food played in her life, this quick, fun, but ultimately moving read is recommended for public libraries and academic libraries with food or multicultural collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ10/15/06.]
—Nicole Mitchell

Kirkus Reviews
A childhood immigration memoir for foodies. Nguyen's father fled Vietnam with his two daughters when Nguyen was just a baby. Sponsored by a family in Grand Rapids, Mich., the Nguyens began to adjust to life in a "pale city," dominated by conservative Christians and blonde Republicans. Nguyen explores her relationship with her new home through food: As a girl, she longed for and fantasized about the packaged goods that fill American grocery stores. One of her earliest discoveries was Pringles-the red tube in which the chips sit snuggly-which captivated her. When, as a girl, Nguyen began to read the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder, she marveled at the descriptions of butchering hogs and making cheese, activities that seemed to encapsulate the American frontier experience. She contrasts her own stepmother, Rosa, with the mothers of her school chums: Real mothers cook things like pot roast; real mothers bake Toll House cookies in the afternoon; real mothers send their daughters to school with lunches packed neatly in Tupperware containers. Rosa, a hard-working schoolteacher, was too busy to be Betty Crocker, and the family usually dined on simple Vietnamese food, often cooked by Nguyen's grandmother. Nguyen finally went on strike, refusing to eat until her grandmother and stepmother agreed to "better" food. This gastronomic theme sometimes feels forced, but some of the author's prose is lovely and her imagery fresh. And in her recreation of a world populated by Family Ties, Ritz crackers and Judy Blume books, she has captured the 1980s with perfection. Nguyen's not in the class of, say, Richard Rodriguez; nonetheless, this debut suggests she's a writer to watch.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143113034
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/29/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 334,138
  • Product dimensions: 5.16 (w) x 7.82 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Bich Minh Nguyen teaches literature and creative writing at Purdue University. She lives with her husband, the novelist Porter Shreve, in West Lafayette, Indiana and Chicago.

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Table of Contents


Pringles     1
Forbidden Fruit     17
Dairy Cone     31
Fast Food Asian     45
Toll House Cookies     61
School Lunch     73
American Meat     85
Green Sticky Rice Cakes     95
Down with Grapes     117
Bread and Honey     131
Salt Pork     149
Holiday Tamales     165
Stealing Buddha's Dinner     179
Ponderosa     197
Mooncakes     221
Cha Gio     239
Author's Note     255
Acknowledgments     257
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 14 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 12, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A great Vietnamese immigrant story

    This is a memoir of growing up as an immigrant in a small town in Michigan where the population was predominant white. Nguyen's family left Vietnam after the fall of Saigon and she chronicled the difficulties of her family adjusting to life in the U.S. Her father married a Mexican-American woman named Rosa and her family dynamics was unique compared to a typical American family at that time. The main theme of her book centered on her confusion due to her dual identities as both a Vietnamese and an American. Throughout her book, Nguyen described her cravings for American food which were what "normal" Americans for eating. She grew up fantasizing about snacks like Ho-Hos, Ding Dongs, chips, Chef Boyardee and others. Where she was stuck eating "pho" a type of Vietnamese noodles.

    This was a rather interesting read about growing up as an immigrant in the Midwest in the 80s. Her writing was clear, engaging and very descriptive. She was candid in describing her family and issues they were facing as well as her own challenges in trying to fit into the mainstream society. A heartwarming memoir!

    Another great memoir I highly recommend is by Lac Su called "I Love Yous are for White People". It's also a Vietnamese immigrant story. Not as cute as Nguyen's memoir but a fascinating read nonetheless. It's raw and uncensored.

    11 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2008

    Hungry for Love (and Identity)

    I just finished this delightful memoir. I admit I don't often read the memoirs out today because their subject matter always seems to be about abuse. But this one is different. We are taken on a journey from Vietnam to Grand Rapids Michigan, through the eyes of a young girl trying to seek her identity through the crass commercialism of the United States. Food plays a major role in this narrative, rather than abuse, although there is plenty of dysfunction in this mixed family situation. Nguyen is definitely a writer to watch, and I look forward to reading her novel when it comes out.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2008

    Entertaining Book

    I grew up with the same thoughts about eating fruits on the alter as this author did. A very well-written book 'in the English light.' However, I find a great disappointment in the spelling errors of Vietnamese words she decided to incorporate into this book. The editors of this book should look into the spelling errors in this book, at this day and age I feel that consumers should not have to pay for books with spelling errors, and it is very unPC to have mispellings of words. Other than this mishap, this was an interesting read that I've referred to others.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 30, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    A coworker recommended this book to me. I enjoyed it. It's lig

    A coworker recommended this book to me. I enjoyed it. It's light and fun.

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  • Posted March 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Stealing Buddha's Dinner

    Stealing Buddha's Dinner was an interesting book. Being from the state of Michigan, it was fun to read about places that I know and experiences that I have had in this state. I have gone blueberry picking in PawPaw. I grew up during this time period and remember vividly the airlift out of Vietnam. This series of events in the book was totally fascinating and heart-breaking at the same time. The food in this book made my mouth water and brought back many of my own childhood memories. I loved those candy necklaces. The references to the Vietnamese food made me want to learn to cook these traditional foods. I also enjoyed the music that was mentioned in the book. Some were just so funny, because I would start singing the words. This book was just enjoyable.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2009

    Eh.

    This book was really exciting at first! I was really excited to read it because the family ends up in the city i live by! Then I got to the middle... It was so slow that I couldn't wait to put it down. I HAD to read it for an english assignment so i HAD to finish it. Im not sure if I would have finished it if I wasn't required to.

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  • Posted February 18, 2009

    Stealing Buddah's Dinner

    Good read. Love learning culture and a person's stuggle with culture and identity. Much hope remains! We learn from past experiences.

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  • Posted November 27, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I like to be in America

    A representation of the process that immigrants go through when the reach a destination that was going to answer all their needs. Definitely worth reading, if only to see what others face when going through a cultural shock of this kind.

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