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Stealing Buddha's Dinner: A Memoir Hardcover – February 1, 2007

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (February 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670038326
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670038329
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #588,088 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

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.

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Customer Reviews

Her writing was clear, engaging and very descriptive.
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.
M. Bolthouse
This is an excellent book about growing up as a first generation american.
M. Galindo

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By ThatWordChick on December 24, 2009
Format: Perfect Paperback
I wanted to love this book, I really did. I loved the synopsis on the flap, the tantalizing story the title hinted at, and the chance to read a story from a Vietnamese perspective - a relatively rare one thus far in my reading history. In reality, the narrative was passionless, the title story bland, and the characters surprisingly one-dimensional.

I love food, and thus expected to enjoy a book written by someone who conceivably shared the same fascination. However, it was bland, and when I came to the end of 250 pages, I felt vaguely annoyed that there was no central theme, no distinct impression for my several hours of reading. Yes, food is mentioned, and even tied into the author's other great love, reading, but it is done so inexpertly. For every original poetic passage of the translucence of a Pringle, there are several more that are easily twice as long, essentially doing nothing but lengthily paraphrasing food scenes from familiar classic books.

My main concern is the author's seeming inability to stay in a linear time line. I'd be reading about her at age eight, and within the same chapter, one paragraph after and with no segue way, suddenly I was pulled to age five, with important characters and events that had just happened swept aside. In a way, I felt like it was one of those damning statements in court that the judge asks the jury to "disregard" can't un-hear something, no matter how hard you try. There was little, if any, connection or emotional involvement with the narrator. In fact, the one person I wanted to know more about, her grandmother, was spoken of almost exclusively in regards to her actions, as if she was a mute.

I am sorry, Ms. Nguyen, because I wanted to like your book. I hate giving bad reviews, but I just did not like it at all. I felt the editor could have done a much better job, both in continuity and the handful of spelling/puctuation mistakes I saw as well.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By professional and mom on June 12, 2008
Format: Perfect Paperback
This book is just okay. There were a few insighful moments about acculturation and religion, but nothing really new in the ethnic-american and/or memoir genre. It's a nice collection of memories, especially if you grew up in the 1980's. However, it lacks good storytelling. Nothing really happens. I find it surprising that the author teaches literature and creative writing. Overall, disappointing.
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19 of 24 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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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Roxie Geiser Weaver on September 25, 2009
Format: Perfect Paperback
I lived in Grand Rapids for about one year and I actually am familiar with the areas the author lived in. I had to laugh as she spoke about Princeton Estates as we lived in a home with that sign in our front lawn for a little over a year. It is now a very typical middle class neighborhood, nothing all that fancy. I felt the author was quite unkind in her descriptions of the Dutch people. They are a hard working group of people, who may come off a little abrupt and who are keen on watching their money. However, they sponsored many immigrant families, set them up with housing, jobs and sponsorships. I felt the author was unkind in her description of them and she came off sounding ungrateful and mean spirited. I am not Dutch but worked with many of them and they were extremely hard working and generous. I believe her isolation came more from her shyness and disfunctional family than from her ethnic background.

I found the book whiney. I grew up lower middle class, but my parents did what they could for us children. We never had store bought snacks, I never had hamburger helper until I was married and I never had a pair of jeans until college. Life goes on, I wanted jeans and a sweater when I was in junior high, didn't get them, but I didn't blame my family, neighbors and the entire town I lived in for not having them.

I kept thinking the author would realize that the life she had was far better than what many other people have. I do think in the last few chapters she was realizing this might be the case, but it was not enough to make up for all the previous boring, whining, endless food stories.

Lastly, I also did not like the fact the book jumped around - one chapter she would be five and then she would be eight and then back to five, etc. I found this confusing. I will say that it was interesting to read a story about a place you have actually lived in and can say - "I remember that store or that street or neighborhood."
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