How was I to resist a story that told the tale of Binh, the cook to Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas: expats all living in Paris. Anh Binh is Vietnamese, a gourmet chef and one possessed of a richly evocative sense of description.
Told through Binh’s point of view, the story consists of scenes relived through memories of Vietnam, being at sea and his early life and struggles in Paris. There is a peculiar device used by the author to narrate and voice Binh, some idiomatic and grammatical errors creep in to illustrate his struggle with French, English, Vietnamese and his particular poetic use of words and language in metaphor and simile to present a solid sense of who he is.
Unfortunately, without any particular conflict or quest, simply the retelling of his story without real ties to Stein and Toklas, but more reflective on Americans in Paris and a feeling of self-indulgent whinging: the lush illustrative language is lost as readers wonder about the point. While I had hoped to see more information about Stein and Toklas in their relationship, interactions and approach to the world, Binh is more concerned with presentation and self-approbation, reached only through his facility with the meals he creates.
Narration for this story was provided by J. Paul Boehmer. There weren’t any great distractions to his narration: his tone is pleasant and enunciation is clear. However, there was a distinct lack of emotion imbued into the retelling of the story, and with his pace being naturally slow, rather than allowing time for reflection it did make the story drag on. A touch of emotion imbued into the story, or a change in tempo of the narration would have helped to keep a listener engaged.
This wasn’t quite what I expected, but it did hold moments of great surprise in facile use of descriptions that were evocative and mouth-watering. While the story of Binh was rather unfocused, and a few cultural errors and mistakes were presented in the retelling, it was a listen that was provided some great imagery and interest for food combinations, flavors and ideas.
Stars: Overall: 3 Narration : 3 Story : 3
Title: The Book of Salt
Author: Monique Truong
Genre: Literary Fiction
Narrator: J. Paul Boehmer
Published by: AudioGo
Source: AudioBook Jukebox
Audio Length: 10 Hours: 24 minutes
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Binh, a Vietnamese cook, flees Saigon in 1929, disgracing his family to serve as galley hand at sea. The taunts of his now-deceased father ringing in his ears, Binh answers an ad for a live-in cook at a Parisian household, and soon finds himself employed by Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.
Toklas and Stein hold court in their literary salon, for which the devoted yet acerbic Binh serves as chef, and as a keen observer of his "Mesdames" and their distinguished guests. But when the enigmatic literary ladies decide to journey back to America, Binh is faced with a monumental choice: will he, the self-imposed "exile," accompany them to yet another new country, return to his native Vietnam, or make Paris his home?
A copy of this title was provided via AudioBook Jukebox for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.