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Summary Of The Book Of Salt

Summary of The Book of Salt by Monique Truong

The Book of Salt is a 2003 debut novel by Vietnamese-American author Monique Truong. It presents a narrative through the eyes of Bình, a Vietnamese cook. His story centers in Paris in his life as the cook in the home of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, and is supplemented by his memories of his childhood in French-colonial Vietnam.

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The novel is divided into four parts, each named after a type of salt: Fleur de Sel, Sel Gris, Sel Marin, and Sel Gemme. The novel alternates between Bình's present in Paris and his past in Vietnam and at sea. Bình, whose real name is never revealed, is the youngest son of a wealthy landowner and a servant woman. He is disowned by his father for being gay and having an affair with a French chef named Chef Pierre. He escapes Saigon and becomes a cook on various ships, where he encounters racism, violence, and loneliness. He eventually arrives in Paris and answers an ad for a position in the household of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, two famous American writers and lovers who host salons for artists and intellectuals.

Bình is fascinated by the eccentric and unconventional life of his employers, whom he calls Mesdames. He observes their daily routines, their interactions with their guests, their pets, their art collection, and their manuscripts. He also develops a crush on one of their frequent visitors, Dr. Marcus Lattimore, a mixed-race American who practices iridology, a pseudoscience that claims to diagnose health problems by examining the iris of the eye. Lattimore is also gay and passes for white most of the time. He manipulates Bình into stealing one of Stein's notebooks, which he claims is titled The Book of Salt and is about Bình's life.

Throughout the novel, Bình reflects on his identity, his sexuality, his language, his culture, and his relationship with his family. He recalls his mother, who gave him a red pouch of money before he left Vietnam; his father, who haunts him with his cruel words; his brothers, who treated him differently; his sister-in-law, who was kind to him; and his nephew, who was curious about him. He also remembers his first love, Chef Pierre, who taught him how to cook and how to pleasure a man. He compares and contrasts his experiences in Vietnam and France, both colonized and colonizing countries. He questions his role as a servant, a cook, a lover, and a storyteller.

The novel ends with Bình leaving the Mesdames' house after being caught with Lattimore's photograph. He decides to stay in Paris and look for another job as a cook. He hopes to see Minh again, a mysterious man he met on a bridge who turned out to be Ho Chi Minh, the future leader of Vietnam's independence movement. He also hopes to write his own book of salt, a collection of stories that capture his salty taste of life.

The Book of Salt is a novel that explores themes such as colonialism, racism, sexuality, identity, language, art, and memory. It is written in a lyrical and poetic style that blends humor and tragedy. It is also a novel that reimagines history from the perspective of a marginalized and silenced voice.


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