“The Book of Salt” by Monique Truong – Book Review


Primarily set in Paris in the 1930s, in “The Book of Salt”, we get to understand life through the perspective of Binh, the Vietnamese cook employed by Gertrude Stein and her lesbian partner, Alice B. Toklas.  Binh is a shrewd observer and in equal measure, he is creative in recounting the life of his famous mesdames, as he is candid in telling about his own place in the world.  If you are looking for a story with a beginning, middle, and an ending with a climax then the story might disappoint you.  His is a story that must be enjoyed as as a journey, without yearning for a destination.  The beauty of language in how the story is told is striking.  Enjoy below a few interesting quotes from the book and read it to enjoy more.

English: Portrait of Gertrude Stein Deutsch: P...

English: Portrait of Gertrude Stein Deutsch: Porträt Gertrude Stein (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The vocabulary of servitude is not built upon my knowledge of foreign words but rather on my ability to swallow them.

Communicating in the negative is not the quickest and certainly not the most esteemed form of expression, but for those of us with few words to spare it is the magic spell, the incantation, that opens up an otherwise inaccessible treasure trove.

Only the rich can afford not to eat their animals.

After years of the imposed invisibility of servitude, I am acutely aware when when I am being watched, a sensitivity born from absence, a grain of salt on the tongue of a man who has tasted only bitter.

In order for his new business to thrive, he needed to be within walking distance of poverty.  Abject was not required.  That would be overdoing it.  He needed just a paid-on-Saturday, broke-by-sunday kind of poverty, a deep-rooted not-going-anywhere-soon kind of insolvency.  

He was a cook, after all.  For tenderness, we all know that braising is better than an open flame.  

She believes that it is possible to be humane even when one is behaving brutally.

A bridge belongs to no one because a bridge has to belong to two parties, one on either side.  There has to be an agreement, a mutual consent, otherwise it’s a useless piece of wood, a wasted expanse of cement.  Every bridge is, in this way, he explained, a monument to an accord.

Regarding sea sickness………
My body had to first let go of land before it could survive at sea.  It is the body’s stubborn resistance and violent refusal that are solely at fault, producing sham symptoms.

Charity that has to be repaid?  Wouldn’t that make it a loan?

She sat still and received from her mother a rare gift of tenderness, which for the girl would always mean pain.

Wives are never geniuses.  Geniuses are never wives.  GertrudeStein, therefore, has no use for them.  

The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook

The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A pinch of salt, according to my Madame, should not be a primitive reflex, a nervous twitch on the part of any cook……..

Salt is an ingredient to be considered and carefully weighed like all others.  The true test of salt – the whole of the sea on the tip of the tongue, sorrow’s sting, labor’s smack — has been lost, according to my Madame, to be centuries of culinary imprudence.

A “memory” was for me another way of saying a “story”.  A “story” was another way of saying a “gift”.

For a traveler, it is sometimes necessary to make the world small on purpose.  It is the only way to stop migrating and find a new home.  

Plaque at No 27 Rue de Fleurus, Paris 6th, whe...

Plaque at No 27 Rue de Fleurus, Paris 6th, where Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) lived with her brother Leo Stein and later with Alice B. Toklas. Many artists and writers came here to visit her between 1903 and 1938. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  1. #1 by Beauty Along the Road on November 17, 2014 - 6:47 pm

    Another interesting book…those excerpts have an almost haunting quality to them.

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