Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Stealing Buddha’s Dinner

Posted by nliakos on December 26, 2015

by Bich Minh Nguyen (Viking 2007; ISBN 987-0-670-03832-9)

Bich Minh Nguyen’s memoir of growing up as a Vietnamese American (with a Latina stepmother and stepsister) in Grand Rapids, Michigan is seen through the lens of the foods that represented the various cultures that surrounded her: Vietnamese rice cakes and cha gio; Mexican tacos and tamales; and every kind of American junk food I have ever heard of plus quite a few I have not. Food dominates even her recollections of favorite books read.

Among the descriptions of eating and obsessing about food, however, Nguyen describes a painfully shy child who longed to fit in but was awkward, nerdy, not as pretty or cool as her older sister, her stepsister, or her (mostly Dutch-American) neighbors and classmates, a child who completely bought into the pre-political correctness assumption that blond hair, white skin, blue eyes, and white bread sandwiches were automatically better than anything a blended refugee family could come up with. Her father and stepmother were not concerned with Bich’s self-esteem. Theirs was not a particularly happy marriage (in fact, for several years, they divorced but continued living in the same house), and their attitude toward child-raising was not what we would call enlightened. Still, when Nguyen visits Vietnam as an adult, as well as when she is finally reunited with her birth mother, she realizes that despite all their faults, her father and stepmother kept her safe, educated her, and gave her a better life than she might have had had she remained in Vietnam. It’s a reminder that children are pretty resilient; we can make a lot of mistakes, and they can still turn out all right.

This book shines a light on the inner life of a refugee child as she grows to womanhood. It’s a reminder that reaching the promised land, be it the United States, Germany, or some other place, is only the beginning. Growing up is challenging wherever and whoever we are; growing up in an alien place where we do not feel accepted for who we are is much harder.

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2 Responses to “Stealing Buddha’s Dinner”

  1. mmvcentro said

    Dear Nina.
    I loved your closing sentense. Growing up is an everyday job.
    Take my visit here for example, revisiting WordPress after so many years implied learning. Thanks for bringing me here

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