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Winner of the PEN/Jerard Award
Chicago Tribune Best Book of the Year
Kiriyama Notable Book
Selected for all-community/all-university reads, including the Great Michigan Read
"A charming memoir. . . . Her prose is engaging, precise, compact."
- Ben Fong-Torres, The New York Times Book Review
"[D]eftly crafted . . . Far from being a memoir of what could be described as fitting into the kitschy ethnic-lit genre, her story is at once personal and broad, about one Vietnamese refugee navigating U.S. culture as well as an exploration of identity. . . . [S]he pays equal attention to the rhythm and poignancy of language to build her story as she does the circumstances into which she was born." -- Michael Standaert, Los Angeles Times
"The author's prose is lovely and her imagery fresh. And in her recreation of a world populated by Family Ties [and] Ritz crackers . . . she has captured the 1980s with perfection. . . . This debut suggests she's a writer to watch." -- Kirkus Reviews
"[A] perfectly pitched and prodigiously detailed memoir." -- Boston Globe
"The immigrant's tale is a perpetually renewing source, at once enduring and changing--creating new voices, new details and new experiences while forming its own tradition. Where would we be without Saul Bellow's cocky but anxious Augie March, or Philip Roth's neurosis-packed Portnoy's Complaint? Russians, Italians, Hispanics and Somalis all have contributed their first-generation protagonists -- mixtures of energy and anxiety, shame and pride, longing and resistance.
Bich Minh Nguyen, a Vietnamese woman who came of age in super-white, super-conservative Grand Rapids, Mich., in the 1980s, takes her place among them with her memoir, Stealing Buddha's Dinner. At the same time, she brings a new and totally individual fixation into the mix: for Roth, America is a blonde; for Nguyen, it's a Hostess cupcake.
Nguyen brings back moments and sensations with such vivid clarity that readers will find themselves similarly jolted back in time. She's a sensuous writer--colors and textures weave together in her work to create a living fabric. This book should be bought and read anytime your soul hungers for bright language and close observation."
- Emily Carter Roiphe, Minneapolis Star Tribune
"As Bich Minh Nguyen relates in her bittersweet first book, the memoir Stealing Buddha's Dinner, food becomes part of her yearning for Americanness, for normalcy. If she eats what's on TV, she'll fit in, even as she occasionally laments the loss of her mother tongue. It's this premise that makes the book relevant not only to anyone who's ever lusted after the perfect snack, but anyone who's ever felt different." -- Michael Rose, San Francisco Chronicle
"It seems as though everyone has written a memoir by now, but Stealing Buddha's Dinner is one of the few that's well worth reading. . . . Her writing is so detailed that the era--the fashions, the music, hairstyles--comes alive. She also uses food to indicate the divide she feels between herself, her family, and the larger 'American' group she longs to be a part of. . . . [S]he tells the tale so well that you just want to keep remembering this childhood with her. This is a funny, touching book from a promising young writer. . . . Stealing Buddha's Dinner is original and fresh." -- BUSTMagazine
"At once sad and funny, full of brass, energy, and startling insights, is a charmer of a memoir. Bich Nguyen's story ranges from the pleasures of popular culture to the richness of personal history, from American fast foods to traditional Vietnamese fare. It is an irresistable tale." -- Diana Abu-Jaber, author of Origin, Crescent and The Language of Baklava
"Nguyen is a gifted storyteller who doles out humor and hurt in equal portions as she fleshes out the plight of the immigrant. . . . This memoir, which is also a tribute to 'all the bad food, fashion, and hair of the deep 1980s,' feels vivid, true, and even nostalgic." -- Marjorie Kehe, Christian Science Monitor
"Her prose effortlessly pulls readers into her worlds. Her typical and not-so-typical childhood experiences give her story a universal flavor." -- Carole Memmott, USA Today
“Frank, tender, unsettling, Bich Minh Nguyen moves the reader with each event and image. Bich's grandparents ‘gathered up the family and fled Vietnam to start over on the other side of the world’ in 1975. Her own and her family’s subtle and brutal collisions in Grand Rapids, Michigan, are rendered true and palpable by the writer’s candid imagination. In fiction and nonfiction, the reality of a character's life lies in how it is experienced. Nguyen's immigrant childhood resonates, as she captures the experience of two cultures’ clashing smells, religions, hair styles, clothes, habits, and, especially, foods. As she writes it, her grandmother’s gathering toadstools in their backyard garden sets them apart from their neighbors absolutely but also ineffably. America's foundational story is the immigrant’s tale, and, with its new citizens, the country continuously remakes itself. Similarly, Nguyen's unique writerly vision, her innovative and pungent voice, reinvents and renews this venerable theme." -- Lynne Tillman, judges' citation for the PEN/Jerard Award
"Stealing Buddha's Dinner is an irresistible memoir of assimilation, compassion, family, and food. Who would have thought that SpaghettiOs, Nestlé Quik, and Pringles could seem as wonderfully exotic to a Vietnamese refugee as shrimp curry and spring rolls seem to the average Midwesterner, but that's part of the tasty surprise of this wonderful debut." -- Dinty W. Moore, author of The Accidental Buddhist: Mindfulness, Enlightenment, and Sitting Still and editor ofBrevity