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Stealing Buddha's Dinner

3.48  ·  Rating details ·  3,338 ratings  ·  591 reviews
A vivid, funny, and viscerally powerful memoir about childhood, assimilation, food, and growing up in the 1980s
As a Vietnamese girl coming of age in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Bich Nguyen is filled with a rapacious hunger for American identity. In the pre-PC era Midwest, where the devoutly Christian blond-haired, blue-eyed Jennifers and Tiffanys reign supreme, Nguyen's bare
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published February 1st 2007 by Viking Adult
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Average rating 3.48  · 
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 ·  3,338 ratings  ·  591 reviews

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Ji In
I read a criticism of this memoir by someone else who seemingly panned it on the basis that it was not written in a linear or chronological fashion, as memoirs are "supposed to be." I think this is a common misconception of memoir -- that it is "supposed to be" a time line of one's life, from birth to some magical resolution.

Not true. I generally find books like that exceedingly dull. Setting out to write one's memoir, one might outline the book in a loosely chronological order, but I think ulti
Nov 23, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: kids who grew up in Grand Rapids
Shelves: non-fiction
I went to middle school with Bich, so when I heard a clip on NPR within the last year, about an author of a memoir "growing up in a sea of blond" I perked up, thinking I, too, grew up feeling outside of the sea of blond I grew up in... Imagine my surprise when the NPR story revealed the author. I do remember
some painful substitute-teacher-butcherings of Bich's name; that Bich was extremely quiet; and she was the only girl in class who was my size-- extremely small-- which was automatically an i
mis fit
Nguyen's writing immerses you in a richly detailed world of traditional Vietnamese dishes, American junk food, and tamales. With food as a starting point, she explores issues of belonging, marginalization, class, and girlhood. This is the kind of book you can just get lost in.... You fall in love with the characters, and root for them. Like when they are triumphantly making a mess of the perfect, pretty white girl's bedroom! Yessss!

I love her descriptions of the books she read growing up, with a
Jun 24, 2007 rated it liked it
I have a habit of judging books by their covers, and I saw this one float past me at work and immediately wanted to read it without having any idea what it was about. Probably because I was hungry, and there are snacks on the cover.

So imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a memoir of someone growing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Nobody EVER writes books about Grand Rapids, Michigan. One time Anne Lamott mentioned Grand Rapids, very quickly, because of all of the dutch blonde people. Nguyen t
Sep 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing
What a great walk down memory lane. The only thing missing was Russ' restaurant. Bich Minh Nguyen writes in agonizing detail about the dilemma of cross-cultural existence, with applications to be made in every direction. As one of the tall, blonde, problematic Dutch Reformed that made her life miserable, it was an especially painful read, soothed only by her incredibly similar memories of food from the '70s and '80s. Her description of being not quite American, but neither quite Vietnamese remin ...more
Books Ring Mah Bell
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
Melissa Ly
Dec 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Bich Minh Nguyen's "Stealing Buddha's Dinner" tells the story of her childhood, a time when she realized that her Vietnamese customs and cultures are far from normal compared to the lives of devout Christian blonde-haired, blue-eyed girls who make her feel abnormal and create for her a rapacious hunger for an American identity. The book is set in Grand Rapids, Michigan during the time of the Vietnam War when floods of immigrants migrated from Vietnam, seeking for a better life and a safe place t ...more
Jan 18, 2008 rated it it was ok
This was such a disappointing book. The author is a Vietnames refugee who was raised almost entirely in the United States, but still never really fit into the ideal of becoming an American, so she tries to become an American by eating American food. Its obvious that many of these chapters appeared as individual essays in other publications, and little editing was done to make it into a cohesive story. Not only does the book jump around in different points of her life, but ominous foretelling fac ...more
Sep 08, 2007 rated it it was ok
I found this book to be disappointing, but mostly because I had different ideas about what genre it was supposed to be. I was hoping for a refugee survival story. But it was mostly just a laundry list of memories from a childhood of the 80's. Much of it was familiar to me of course, but I need more than a list of favorite candy bars or a lengthy summary of the Little House books to keep me inspired. The memoir was slow to progress; the narrator frustratingly remained seven years old for what se ...more
Jun 03, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Foodies and outsiders
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir
In elementary school I had a friend named Van, a Vietnamese immigrant, who, by 5th grade, was already an amazing cook of her traditional food. In 6th grade, her parents brought in food for Van's birthday. However, instead of bringing the traditional cupcakes, or even anything Vietnamese, they brought spaghetti. I always thought that was so odd, and a little funny, but after reading this memoir by Bich Minh Nguyen, the reasons behind this unintentional social oddity seems much clearer.

The author
Andrea Hewitt
Jul 27, 2007 rated it liked it
So, I was really jazzed to read this book as it is a) a memoir, b) set in the 1980s, and c) about food. And there were parts of it I really liked. But, overall, I was a bit disappointed. Every time the book seemed to rev up, it let me down again. Part of the problem was the non-chronological nature of the was hard to get any momentum for me as a reader when the author kept going back and forth in time (and not in an interesting way). And her time markers (TV shows, songs, etc. of the 8 ...more
Sep 06, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
I really enjoyed this book. The author's need to fit in through gorging herself with American junk food was fascinating. I would definitely recommend this book especially to those who could remember the Vietnam war and the boat people who proabably settled in their neighborhoods and went to their schools.
Jan 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
Set in Grand Rapids near where I currently live and where I went to college this memoir is luscious. Very cleverly written. It is also an incredible reflection on being marginalized as a 2nd generation immigrant. Overtones of adoption with the mystery surrounding a missing birth mother.

The book has some really compelling chapters--I thought the chapter in which she breaks into her neighbors' house while they're gone was especially poignant and the chapters that included description of the VietNa
Feb 04, 2008 rated it liked it
I picked this up on the New Book shelf at the library, attracted by the striking cover design. It's not a bad read -- a Vietnamese immigrant's account of growing up in drearily blonde Grand Rapids. The central conceit is Bich's fixation on American junk food as a symbol of belonging, but after a while the litany of brand names wore on me.

I wanted more insight into herself and her unusual family (her father, a scrappy self-indulgent man, married a Mexican-American activist in what turned out to
May 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I LOVED this book.
Although I am a white girl with dark hair, I could relate to the author. It seemed that she was pretty close to my age, the coveted red Tupperware lunchbox was a big giveaway! There was that one girl in my 5th grade class: long blonde hair down to her butt-that sometimes was done up in fancy french braids!-bright blue eyes,she was super skinny, and she was rich because she took ballet classes and wore Jordache jeans every day! Oh! She also had a beautiful name, Shaunda. So when
Jul 29, 2009 rated it did not like it
I read this one because we are considering it for our "Hillsdale County Reads" selection, but really didn't enjoy it at all. Narratively disjointed, it seemed to me to boil down to the author alternately whining and listing foods. Neither of which, frankly, is that interesting. When she started listing the foods that were mentioned in the "Little House on the Prairie" books, I nearly wanted to poke out my own eyeballs. I will admit that the last few chapters, where an adult Nguyen meets her moth ...more
Jan 12, 2012 rated it it was ok
This is a memoir of a young Vietnamese girl who flees her homeland during the fall of Saigon, smuggled away along with her slightly older sister by her father, two uncles, and her grnadmother. They end up in a heavily Dutch part of Michigan, in Grand Rapids, where soon the family becomes more complicated with the introduction of a Mexican-American mother and a half-Anglo stepsister. Later on foster brothers, refugees from Vietnam, will add to the multicultural mix.

There is a lot--and I do mean a
Paulette Stenzel
Jul 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. I became so immersed in the author’s world that I hated to see the book end. Since I was a child, I have especially loved the experience of reading books that leave me feeling that way.

The author’s memoir of her life in the United States after fleeing Vietnam Nam with her family when she was a young child is mostly based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The book was engaging for me for the perspectives it provides on the experience of Vietnamese immigrants and with additional views r
I liked this biography a lot. It was very interesting - the story of a Vietnamese girl who came to the United States as an infant and throughout her childhood never found herself at home with either being Vietnamese or American. She tells the story through food - the chapters are themes about food and how she relates her love of junk food and American food and how it applies to the emptiness she often feels inside.

I wish the chapters had been more chronological. She was generally chronological,
Mar 10, 2007 rated it liked it
This is a solid memoir that I think I enjoyed a lot because it discussed the immigrant experience in Michigan--and maybe that resonated with me since I am a Michigan transplant, myself. However, this is mostly about the immigrant experience as related to consumer food in America (and just happens to take place on the West Coast of Michigan--Grand Rapids). I think a lot of the characters are one-dimensional with regards to how the author portrays them, but she gets her point across that way. For ...more
Feb 27, 2015 rated it it was ok
There's a poignant, vivid, well-written approx. 15-page magazine article looking back at growing up in Michigan feeling like an outsider by religion, race, and all family customs after immigrating from Viet Nam in the mid-70's in here. Author is skilled at evoking sibling issues and complicated neighborhood friendships.

Unfortunately, this touching article is buried in another 250 pages of preoccupation with food. Junk food the American kids ate that she didn't have, "ethnic" food her family prep
Dec 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
There are a lot of fascinating things about this memoir. The author's grandmother, Noi, almost seems like a goddess herself. She never talks, but her presence and impact on the author speak for themselves. The author's story of how she left Vietnam is amazing, and her return to the country at the end of the book is a really interesting (and kind of sad) parallel to the rest of the book, in that as she was growing up, she did not feel she fit in and did not truly identify as what she saw as a typ ...more
Eric Dye
Jan 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. It was such an honest story of the author’s childhood. Food certainly wove throughout the book and asserted itself as a character in so many unique and interesting ways. This book contains humor and immense sadness. I loved seeing Grand Rapids through the eyes of Bich. I also came to Southwest Michigan as an outsider and could relate to some (though certainly not all) of what she described in her book. Highly recommend this book!
Nov 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Vivid. Picturesque. Detailed. Strongly crafted voice. Loved the food imagery.
May 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A super and skilled memoir of growing up American and Vietnamese with a Hispanic step mother in the 1980s Grand Rapids, Michigan. Bich (pron. "Bik") maps her childhood in Midwestern take-out junk food, green sticky rice cakes, and holiday tamales, each chapter centers around a food that reveals our culture, prejudices, and delights -- a wonderfully original and honest approach to memoir. How can she remember first and pre-first grade in such detail? Nothing but admiration and wonder. I'll go rea ...more
Nov 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I really enjoyed this book, but some of it might have to do with the fact that I know the author's brother. Aside from that, it was just a really interesting memoir because it was different from my life as a kid. I'd always had friends from different cultures, many of them refugees, and was fascinated with their culture. I do remember my friend who was Indian (from India) hated her culture because she wanted to be American. That didn't last forever and by the time she was about 15 or 16 she star ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

Bich Minh Nguyen's humorous coming-of-age tale mines themes of loss and identity by cleverly retelling anecdotes in chapters dealing with__or gleefully obsessing over?__particular American foods. Her prose is engaging, and half the fun is reliving with her the pop culture of the 1980s. Rosa's role as "mom"/tyrant/activist is rich and resonating, but critics were split over the effect of Nguyen's birth mother, whose fleeting appearance is powerful but unexplained. The novel's chronology also caus

Oct 10, 2007 rated it really liked it
Having grown up in a predominately white small small, in fact, that I have only known 2 black families until recently and very few of other varieties and religions...I rarely had the experience of really understanding the issues that confront others from this point of view. So, I am always hungry to understand and get more information. I feel like the struggles she faced were very personal to me from a reader’s point of view. She described things in a way in which I really connected. I ...more
Mar 26, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had a tremendous amount of fun with this book when I started it a few months ago. Bich Minh is almost exactly the same age I am and I was struck over and over with the unexpectedness of the connections I felt with her--unexpected because my lily-white, American-born, farm-raised life is almost the opposite of a Vietnamese refugee living in the suburban mid-west. Turns out, though, that being bookish, glasses-wearing girls growing up in 70s and 80s America means we had quite a lot in common.

Jul 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is a highly readable memoir. Using the lens of Vietnamese vs. American food, Nguyen, who arrived in the U.S. as a baby, vividly describes her experience growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan in the 1980s. As a second generation American growing up in the Midwest in the 1950s and 1960s I identified with many of the scenes and feelings she depicts. The weakest part of the book concerns the history of her fractured yet cohesive family unit. I thought the final reveal of her mother's life was no ...more
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Bich Minh Nguyen received the PEN/Jerard Award for her memoir Stealing Buddhas Dinner, which was a Chicago Tribune Best Book of 2007 and a BookSense pick. It was also selected as The Great Michigan Read for 2009-2010. Bich has appeared on programs such as The Newshour with Jim Lehrer. She lives in Chicago and Indiana, where she teaches literature and creative writing at Purdue University.

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