"[He] came to us through an advertisement that I had in desperation put in the newspaper." It began captivatingly for those days: "Two American ladies wish…" It was these lines in The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book that inspired The Book of Salt.
In Paris, 1934, B├¼nh has accompanied his employers, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, to the train station for their departure to America. His own destination is unclear: will he go with "the Steins," stay in France, or return to his native Vietnam?
B├¼nh has fled his homeland in disgrace, leaving behind his malevolent charlatan of a father and his self-sacrificing mother. For five years, he has been the live-in cook at the famous apartment at 27 rue de Fleurus. Before B├¼nh's decision is revealed, his mesmerizing narrative catapults us back to his youth in French-colonized Vietnam, his years as a galley hand at sea, and his days turning out fragrant repasts for the doyennes of the lost generation.
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“The tone throughout is poignant, lightened by Bình’s subversive wit; for
all his bitterness and resentment, he is a captivating narrator, as
adept at describing Stein’s literary salon as the contents of Toklas’s
kitchen…The narrative rings with emotional authenticity.”