Summary and book reviews of The Book of Salt by Monique Truong

The Book of Salt

by Monique Truong

The Book of Salt
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2002, 272 pages
    Jun 2004, 272 pages

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Book Summary

Set in Paris during the 1930s this intricate, compelling and witty novel weaves in historical characters with remarkable originality — an inspired feast of storytelling riches.

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 Bình’s 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.

Chapter 1

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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About The Book of Salt

"A lush, fascinating, expansive first novel about exile." — New York Times

"An irresistible, scrupulously engineered confection that weaves together history, art and human nature . . . Truong has, after much deliberation, cultivated a veritable feast." — Los Angeles Times

"[He] came to us through an advertisement that I had in desperation put in the newspaper. It began captivatingly for those days: 'Two American ladies wish . . .' " It was these lines in The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book that inspired The Book of Salt, a brilliant first novel by acclaimed Vietnamese American writer Monique Truong.

In Paris, in 1934, Bính has accompanied his ...
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Media Reviews

The Miami Herald

...seductive tale of exile, memory, sex, identity, language, the sins of colonialism and the social and cultural politics of food.

The New York TImes Book Review

...fascinating first novel.. Truong's evoked here with piercing yearning and authenticity.

The New York Times - Christopher Benfey

The story of the uprooted basket weaver is a parable for the kind of vessel that Monique Truong has fashioned in The Book of Salt. Against the odds, she has made unsettling art from precisely such exotic cuttings and transplantings.

The Los Angeles Times - Carmela Ciuraru

Binh is deeply troubled (clearly more so as the novel goes on), yet he is oddly noble, determined to find a life of dignity for himself. That the account of his life story ultimately proves unreliable makes Binh no less memorable or compelling a figure. And it makes Truong's debut seem more impressive and ambitious than most contemporary first works of fiction, which often read like thinly fictionalized memoirs. This novel, however, displays its author's supple imagination on every page.

Publishers Weekly

A mesmerizing narrative voice, an insider's view of a fabled literary household and the slow revelation of heartbreaking secrets contribute to the visceral impact of this first novel.

Booklist Margaret Flanagan

Using salt as a metaphor for food, sweat, tears and the sea, and interweaving the narrative with suggestions of ingredients, recipes, and exotic dishes, Truong provides a savory debut novel of unexpected depth and emotion.

Kirkus Reviews

In a dazzling if sometimes daunting debut, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas's Vietnamese cook tells his story-and theirs.... A tour de force. Truong should take literate America by storm.

Reader Reviews

Kitty Hall

Prose for the discerning
I will reread Monique Truong's The Book of Salt just for the enchanting way she has written this story. To put it simply she writes beautifully. The story of the man on the bridge is poetic as are several other parts of this book. I'm glad she won...   Read More

Ginney Dominic

Well-flavored creation
The Book of Salt is such a touching novel with Binh, the Vietnamese cook, who works for Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in Paris, mixing his metaphors as he reluctantly sails across the seas from Vietnam to Paris. His remakable journey is told ...   Read More


I just finished reading, The Book of Salt. It was the most delectable, positively poignant and intriguing book, fact and/or fiction, that I have read in, approximately, the past 12 years. On average, I read 40+ books per year.
Ms. Truong's use of ...   Read More


Not a bad book but not intriguing enough to make me feel like I had to finish it. Had it not been selected for my book club (by me by the way) I don't think I would have finished it. I'm a novice "foodie" which is why I thought I'd like ...   Read More

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