Books Ring Mah Bell's Reviews > Stealing Buddha's Dinner

Stealing Buddha's Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen
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's review
Mar 05, 09

it was ok
bookshelves: memo-auto-bio, local-flava
Read in March, 2009

Unless you grew up in Grand Rapids in the 1980's, don't read this book. If you did grow up in GR in the 80's... take your chances.

On one hand, of 253 pages in this book, I'd bet about 100 are dedicated to descriptions of food and packaging that food came in.
Besides tamales and tortillas, each holiday included a giant turkey... a vat of mashed potatoes with gravy boats...Stove Top Stuffing, Pillsbury crescent rolls, canned corn soaked in butter, canned string beans with cream of mushroom soup and baked with Durkee fried onions, frijoles, arroz con pollo, pumpkin empanadas...

The worst chapter in the book is called "Salt Pork." She describes in detail the books she read in childhood... describes in detail the FOOD in the book she read as a child. The Wilders eat hearty piles of meat and beans every night... breakfasts... thick oatmeal covered with cream, sausage cakes, pancakes and syrup, fried potatoes, jellies...
I shit you not - that food description goes on another 3 pages!
Oh, I was writing a review.

On the other hand, I enjoyed the trip down memory lane. I haunted some of the same places as the author and her family; the Kountry Korner, P.J. Hoffmaster State Park, Anazeh Sands, Kentwood Skating Center and the now defunct Ponderosa. (Called PonderGROSSa by my family)
The references to 80’s pop culture were fun. I had forgotten a lot about those years. (Old age, you see)

I really wanted to like this book. I felt her pain as she was told repeatedly she was going to hell, and her friends tried to "save" her. (I hear you, Bich! It happened to me too! So much that I said I was Jewish to get people off my back!)
My heart broke when she won the spelling bee in 3rd grade, only to overhear her teacher say rudely, "Can you believe it? Another foreigner won the spelling bee!" (So sorry!)

We have gotten a bit better since then.
I think.
Okay, maybe not.

Anyway, I was searching for the experience of a refugee family in my city, and instead, got a dissertation on food.

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Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

You know you love the PonderGROSSa sundae bar, Pole.

message 2: by Books Ring Mah Bell (last edited Mar 05, 2009 12:07PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Books Ring Mah Bell UG!
Thinking about it gives me the shits.

message 3: by Kim (new)

Kim mmmm... sausage cakes.

message 4: by Matthieu (new)

Matthieu I want some pancakes...

Books Ring Mah Bell I'm gonna need you to be more specific and detailed on that, Matthew. Buttermilk? Blueberry? What kind of syrup? Butter or margarine? How do pancakes relate to your life? Hmmmm?

Oh, and would you like a side of sausage cakes with that?

message 6: by Matthieu (last edited Mar 05, 2009 06:14PM) (new)

Matthieu Buttermilk w/ maple syrup & fresh strawberries. How do pancakes relate to my life? I think it's more like: How doesn't my life relate to pancakes. I love 'em.

And about the sausage cakes: Yes, please!

message 7: by Eunice (new) - added it

Eunice i'm curious as to what you want from a story about a "refugee family". were you just expecting more "ethnic flava"? coming from a "refugee family" myself, i found a few things that i could identify with (like reading the "Little House" books for the food descriptions) and a few things that i couldn't (like the overt racism that she experienced and the unique family situation).

granted, i was hoping for more information about her father and grandmother, but my father wasn't exactly forthcoming in parcelling out details of his life, either, and it could have possibly taken away from what appears to be the theme of the book: food-related stories.

Malbadeen I am just a boring enough person to find the food parts of the book the most interesting. I love hearing about people's perception of food when they were a kid. Sarah's moms Costco loving, crock-pot cooking, canned beans ways crack me up! And I think about a passage in the Laura books that she didn't mention but I still, what 30 years later - ? think about at least a few times a year, when the Ingalles got an Orange for Christmas.
I also remember going to my friends (coincidentally) Sarah's cousins house and being AMAZED by their dinner, which was looking back about as typically American as you can get. Food is probably the easiest way to quickly define our differences (culturally/economically/etc) which might be why I like hearing about other people's experience with it or maybe it's because I'm a lard but that likes to think about eating -either way.

Malbadeen oops. That's supposed to say "Lard butT" not Lard but"

Quiltyknitwit I think all the food symbolized that she was "starving."

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