In Paris, 1934, Bình 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? Having fled his homeland in disgrace, Bình has spent the past five years serving as the personal cook at the famous apartment on the rue de Fleurus. Before Bình reveals his decision, he catapults back to his youth in French-colonized Vietnam, his years as a galley hand at sea, and his days turning out repasts for the doyennes of the Lost Generation. With wry insight, he views the Steins ensconced in rueful domesticity. But is Bìnhs account reliable? A lost soul, he is a late-night habitué of the Paris demimonde, an exile and an alien, a man of musings and memories, and, possibly, lies. Love is the prize that has eluded him, from his family to the men he has sought out in his far-flung journeys. Intricate, compelling, and witty, the novel weaves in historical characters, from Stein and Toklas to Paul Robeson and Ho Chi Minh, with remarkable originality. Flavors, seas, sweat, tears The Book of Salt is an inspired feast of storytelling riches.
Of that day I have two photographs and, of course, my memories.
We had arrived at the Gare du Nord with over three hours to spare. There were, after all, a tremendous number of traveling cases and trunks. It took us two taxi rides from the apartment to the train station before all the pieces could be accounted for. A small group of photographers, who had gathered for the occasion, volunteered to watch over the first load while we returned to the rue de Fleurus for more. My Mesdames accepted their offer without hesitation. They had an almost childlike trust in photographers. Photographers, my Mesdames believed, transformed an occasion into an event. Their presence signaled that importance and fame had arrived, holding each other's hands. Their flashing cameras, like the brilliant smiles of long- lost friends, had quickly warmed my Mesdames' collective heart. More like friends too new to trust, I had thought. I had been with my Mesdames for half a decade by then. ...
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