Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Staff Pick - The Book of Salt by Moinque Truong

Monique Truong's The Book of Salt is one to be savoured. With this one you should take your time and enjoy the rich imagery of flavour and memory.

Binh, a Vietnamese exile, answers an advertisement and takes a
job as a cook for Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in Paris in the 1920s. Stein and Toklas, despite their fame, are the backdrop to this story. Binh, whose employers are never able to pronounce his name properly, has a rich internal voice that contrasts with his halting French and English. His internal voice tells a nuanced story of his childhood in Vietnam and the choices that led him to Paris. Binh, who is gay, is disowned by his alcoholic and abusive father and eventually makes his way to Paris via his job as a galley cook. At the beginning of the novel Binh waits at a train station with Stein and Toklas as they begin their journey back to America. Binh is faced with a choice - a choice to venture to America, to stay in Paris, to return to his homeland or to journey to parts unknown.

Truong was inspired by a footnote in The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook which made reference to their "Indo Chinese cooks". Truong's Binh remembers his mother, his childhood and his past lovers through his cooking. Toklas shares this passion as she conjures up their past life in America with her apple pies. GertrudeStein, who is always referred to with a single name, feels that it is erotic that her lover washes and prepares her food. All three share an understanding of the sensuality of food preparation.

Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min

" This novel tells the story of Madame Mao Zedong, the woman
 almost universally known as the "white-boned demon," whom many hold directly responsible for the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. Bringing her lush psychological insight to bear on the facts of history, Min penetrates the myth surrounding this woman and provides a "convincing nuanced portrait of a damaged personality" (Entertainment Weekly) driven by ambition, betrayal, and a never-to-be-fulfilled need to be loved." Discover

Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin

"Faithfully weaving in details from Robert Louis Stevenson's
classic, Martin introduces an original and captivating character: Mary is a survivor-scarred but still strong-familiar with evil, yet brimming with devotion and love. As a bond grows between Mary and her tortured employer, she is sent on errands to unsavory districts of London and entrusted with secrets she would rather not know. Unable to confront her hideous suspicions about Dr. Jekyll, Mary ultimately proves the lengths to which she'll go to protect him. Through her astute reflections, we hear the rest of the classic Jekyll and Hyde story, and this familiar tale is made more terrifying than we remember it, more complex than we imagined possible." publisher

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