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Stealing Buddha's Dinner: A Memoir Paperback – January 29, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From 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 "bit") 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Bich Minh Nguyen's humorous coming-of-age tale mines themes of loss and identity by cleverly retelling anecdotes in chapters dealing with—or gleefully obsessing over?—particular American foods. Her prose is engaging, and half the fun is reliving with her the pop culture of the 1980s. Rosa's role as "mom"/tyrant/activist is rich and resonating, but critics were split over the effect of Nguyen's birth mother, whose fleeting appearance is powerful but unexplained. The novel's chronology also caused some confusion. Still, this impressive book, Nguyen's first, won the PEN/Jerard Award and sets the stage for a much-anticipated follow-up from this professor of literature and creative writing at Purdue.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (January 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143113038
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143113034
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #293,707 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Kirvi Dances on May 15, 2009
Format: Paperback
While Ms. Nguyen does an amazing job of crafting a portrait of her childhood experiences, the food symbolism gets a bit heavy-handed by the middle of the book. In fact, by the final chapter, I felt like I had been bludgeoned with it.

While the reader is drawn in to her experience, we are never quite able to sympathize with her.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By ED on August 11, 2009
Format: Paperback
Very fun memoir of growing up Vietnamese with a Hispanic step-mom in Grand Rapids Michigan. Very readable and insightful book about American culture as seen through a young immigrant's eyes. I wish the author had been willing to "dig deeper" because after I finished the book there were many unanswered questions for me particularly with regard to the author's biological mother and with regard to her relationship with her father. Sometimes it seemed that the author used humor to avoid dealing with the larger issues. Also, the obsession with food becomes a bit silly and redundant.-- I read this for my book club, and it was not something that I would have picked out, but I enjoyed it... very humorous and the author writes beautifully; my 14 year old daughter wants to read it now. --Great book for middle schoolers and young teens.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Sheri Dillinger on July 26, 2009
Format: Paperback
Nguyen's description of the Grand Rapids culture and it's effects on outsiders hit the mark dead center. Her memory of the many food commodities of the time is precisely accurate. The unspoken observation of the limited perspective and smallness of aspiration of that time rings true. The feeling of suffocation while living this place briefly as an adolescent and then as an adult, decades later, returned with the reading of her memoir. But she left me wanting. Her purpose for writing the story eluded me. The themes, a precise retrospective and the angst of the outsider, are lacking a depth of reflection and a commentary of their impact on the author. I would love for Nguyen to revisit her experiences at some point in the future and give us a more substantive review, beyond observation and statement. I would like to know if that feeling of being an outsider follows her beyond this city and through time. I want to hear if, twenty years from now, she still craves Pringles. Sometimes a memoir can be written too soon. I believe that is the case with this book.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By M. Bolthouse on August 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is non-commital yet oddly angry and unsympathetic toward the narrator's kin: an ill-fitting immigrant step-mother, her ill-suited marraige and their whole patchwork family hold much potential for warmth and growth...but achieve none. Through the book I hoped for some grace, beauty or forgiveness - that the young narrator might find a connection to her family, her community or her nation(s).

At times there are glimpes of a connection, but in the end all of her self-pitiful assessments remain: her sisters were mean, father was distant, step-mother was an overly ambitious, class-confused control freak.

I'd hoped to learn that these fabulous, interesting people- her father, sisters, step-mother, and so-called friends (nothing more to her than ineffective stepping-stones to social success) actually had valid motives and had made valiant efforts, but in the end it was simple: they had not understood her and she had not understood them.

Most importantly, I learned that through her young life she'd been miserable. She'd wanted a lot of foods and other things she couldn't have, which was startlingly familiar to me because I was a kid at this time and I was poor too! I wanted all of those fabulous things like potato chips and soda-pop and barbie dolls, and I didn't get any of it either.

So perhaps this book is most eloquent as a story about growing up poor in America. Perhaps the difference between being a second generation immigrant and a fourth generation immigrant isn't so great as the difference between being poor and not being poor.

Or perhaps I read too much into this book, which may in fact just be about an angry girl who didn't know or get what she wanted.
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Ms. Blots on February 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Heard the author on NPR and I'm a fan of the whole food writing genre so I snapped this book right up. I often find that memoirs are either beautifully written or have a great story. But this tale of food, assimilation and growing up Vietnamese-American in a conservative midwestern city, has both. I savored the language and also devoured the story. The dinner scenes and descriptions of food, particularly grandmother Noi's Vietnamese feasts, are mouth-watering; Nguyen can even turn a Hostess cupcake into a treasured delicacy. The family's escape from Vietnam is harrowing and heartbreaking, as they have to leave Bich's mother behind. The "characters," if that's what you call them in memoir, are all memorable, from Bich's patchwork family of fulls, halfs and steps to the pious lily-white girls she tries to befriend at school. My heart went out to Bich as a young girl trying so desperately to fit in, and to her entire family, every one of them an outsider in this "sea of blonde." I had bought this book expecting a food memoir, but was pleasantly surprised that it offers far more. A universal story with many rewards. I look forward to this author's next book.
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