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Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir Hardcover – January 29, 2013

4.1 out of 5 stars 358 customer reviews

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Q&A with Eddie Huang

Eddie Huang and parents

Q. You're a chef, but your restaurant doesn't show up in this book until pretty late. If you're not writing about your restaurant--the fabulous Baohaus in New York--then what are you writing about?

A. Food is at the core of the book, but I examine it beyond the plate, almost as a symbol. There's only one recipe in this book and there are no measurements. I want people to understand the power that food has as a gateway drug into culture and history, but, first and foremost, my book tells a story about growing up Taiwanese-Chinese in America. It's a story about unpacking your identity, purging yourself of the things your environment has imposed upon your consciousness, and trying to set yourself free. I refused the American Experience I was sold, remixed it for myself, chopped it up, and sold it back.

Q. One of the powerful aspects of the book is the language you use, which feels completely original. Where does your voice come from?

A. Language is constantly changing and the biggest disservice you can do to yourself and your reader is to write how you think you're "supposed to" write. My parents didn't really speak English at home, so I had to develop my English voice independently and mostly through pop culture--I grew up speaking Chinese, listening to hip hop, and watching cable television. Learning to trust my own voice was probably the most important thing I ever did. When I was in college, Richard Ford visited during a speaking series and criticized Ha Jin, who had just won the National Book Award, for writing in English because it wasn't his native tongue, implying that Ha Jin should stick to Chinese. I was just a half-assed student at the time, but I stood up and argued with Ford from my seat till they made me sit down. My mother speaks broken English but even with her comic disregard for subject-verb agreement, she throws mad knowledge darts. You should never worry about what others think about the language you use, as long as it's truly your own.

Eddie Huang and brothers

Q. What do you want readers to take away from Fresh Off the Boat?

A. The simple surface reading of this book is to be yourself by any means possible. That's the basic theme, but I want people to see how implementing a simple concept like that takes a struggle between you and your country, you and your city, you and your reference group, you and your family, you and your race, you and the sub cultures you subscribe to, and on and on. It's about the constant battle between that little voice inside you and the people you love, the legacy you carry, the cultures that make you curious, the country that tells you who you're supposed to be. It's about the complexity of being an individual--about finding love in family, in friends, in food, in music and culture, and a million other surprising places, and figuring out how to bring all that together inside of you. It's about learning to be fearless, but it's also about the cost of those lessons and the literal and psychic violence you encounter when you try to break free.

There are tons of books about the struggle to be an individual, but with each one we reach more and more people who were never spoken to. I was always a weirdo growing up, but I believed that there were weirdos like me, and my writing this book is like Professor X putting on cerebro to find the other mutants.

From Booklist

Born in the U.S. to Taiwanese immigrant parents, Huang refuses to be a “lapdog under a bamboo ceiling,” and his colloquial, furious memoir is as open about his struggling, screaming, sometimes abusive parents as it is about the prejudice he encounters growing up in Orlando and then in New York, where to this day “someone tells me to go back to China at least three times a year.” He hates that everything he does is a statement about his people and where they are from, even as he refuses to be reformed, assimilated, apologetic. Always refusing to fit in, he wants to hurt people like they hurt him, and he succeeds. Now he runs a big New York City gourmet restaurant and a food store, and, throughout the book, food is front and center, including his mother’s recipe for the best beef noodle soup. Readers will leave hungry, and many immigrants will recognize the refusal to go with the model minority myth. --Hazel Rochman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (January 29, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679644881
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679644880
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (358 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #332,467 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By P. Wung VINE VOICE on February 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover
"This book isn't for everyone. I thought it wasn't for me when I first started reading it.

Eddie Huang is the owner of Baohaus, a NYC eatery that is one of the hottest places in town. This is his autobiography, the story of his evolution from a confused kids who was fresh off the boat to an entrepreneur and a food celebrity. I really like thisi book because his life experience runs parallel to mine in many ways.

There are difference though, and even though Eddie speaks from a place that is near and dear to my heart, I am from an era that is far removed from Eddie Huang's generation. Hip-hop isn't my thing and I just don't get it. BUT, there are enough commonalities so that I do get where he is coming from. We both were born in Taiwan, we both came to America as young children. We both found our way through the maze that is America. Eddie did it about twenty years after I did, and he did it with far more courage. I went through the Caucasian society by keeping my head down and working at getting better and smarter their way. Eddie did it by figuring out his way and then having the courage and discipline to stay with it. I seethed inwardly at the racial stereotyping and the inequalities inherent in America, Eddie fought those things and more. Literally.

First of all, being the only Chinese kid in the neighborhood is not a good deal. The stereotypes run rampant and people get really ticked if you don't behave the way they want you to behave. Both of us have been through all that and Eddie's stories, while outrageous sounding, smack of the truth. He is as real as it gets, even more real than anyone wants.

The other part of the growing up Chinese/Taiwanese in America is the relationships we have with our families, particularly our parents.
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Format: Hardcover
This was, when I finished it, clearly a 2-star book. That was 2 weeks ago. Then I had to go back to it a few times and reread some parts over again. Now as I write this review I've got to give it 3 stars just for the amount that it questioned my own assumptions, and I'm bordering on 4 stars for it's boldness and originality.

Let's get it out of the way first - Huang uses numerous subculture references - basketball, comic books, rap, fashion - to the point where you might have a hard time understanding what is going on. That's the point: he's not going to spell it out for you, he's going to talk to you like you already know what's going on. And if you don't know already, he's not going to take the time to explain it to you. You catch up or get lost in the dust.

And there are long passages about his "rough times" getting into fights with frat boys, petty larceny, and selling weed. His wild days don't seem as wild to me as they do to him.

But some of the things he writes about - growing up with an Asian face in America, using food to tell a story, why "fusion" food is almost always dangerous and disingenuous, trying to find out who you are when everyone else is forcing you into an answer you might not like - are really powerful and interesting. Few people are writing about some of this stuff, and it's impossible to ignore him or write this book off.

I may not have understood everything in this book, but I got the sentiment, and I think we'll be hearing about this book and Eddie Huang for years to come.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Being from the northern plains (fly-over country to those from the coasts), I was not aware of Eddie Huang or his Baohous restaurant prior to reading his memoir. Now I wish I lived closer to New York City so that I could taste a sample of his signature bao. I did know what they were (Taiwanese/Chinese meat in a bun) before reading the book, and his sound scrumptious.

Eddie Huang is the son of Taiwanese immigrants who struggled as many do to acclimatize and succeed in the United States. His father eventually put together enough capital to open and steakhouse and the family (parents and three sons) moved rapidly from poverty to wealth in Orlando, Florida. In the book Eddie describes the difficulties he had trying to find a way to fit in - a Chinese boy with a love of hip-hop and Taiwanese food. Eddie spent his teen years trying to live the gangsta lifestyle which eventually got him into trouble with the law. His parents sent him back to Taiwan to try to get his act together.

Eddie Huang is a very smart guy - both street smart and book smart. He learned from his past, went on to college and then to law school, making his father very proud by passing the bar exam on the first try. All set for life, escept that Eddie hated the legal life. He wanted to open a restaurant that would fill both a hip-hop need and a desire for authentic Taiwanese food. So with encouragement from such Food Network notables as Guy Fieri ("Diners, Drive-ins and Dives")and Anthoy Bourdain ("No Reservations")who he met through a cooking contest, Eddie moved ahead with his passion. It was an instant success and seems to be going well. He also writes a food blog and has several videos on his website that document much of what he has written in the book.

I enjoyed the book immensely.
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