Looking back at Binh’s memories and his present time which is 1934, we will bear witness to how to look through the perception of a cook’s observations and be amazed by a brand of metaphysical poetry, bizarre and gentle, with which he follows the map of the world. What his taste buds fell upon, what his hands create as food and the vastness of the art of his talent can speak for the characterization. He lives in a world where meaning occupies a void in words. He only understood the world in terms of the food he eats and cooks.
It is a book that is filled with so much pictures and descriptions of food—the passion of cooking. Reading this book is like eating from the travels that our narrator Binh creates through his food. By 1934, Bihn has served Stein and Toklas for more than five years as a stay-in chef. He address them as “my Mesdames”, far different from what he used to call his past employers, Monsieur and Madame. In this paper we will be focusing only on the first chapter for close reading and find out how the author had made the introduction for the novel.
Bihn’s experiences are imagined by Truong, and have been well described in the first chapter. This first chapter opens us to the earliest residence of Bihn’s, at 27 rue de Fleurus and their arrival in the present setting, the Gare du Nord and how that day began. On that first day, he described the role of the photographers on how he was brought to Garu du Nord. 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 pieces could be accounted for.
(Truong 1) In the first few sentences, the reader can well picture out a tableau of lady travelers with a man-chef brought along. This was made more vivid by the presence of the trunks. It gives the reader a taste of what the book would be all about—a feast of descriptions in moving action. The paragraph suddenly shifted to the scene of having photographers and the importance of the mention of these photographers set out to establish that the Mesdames that the chef is working for are very prominent women, ladies and aristocrats.
He actually refers to them as “young bright people. ” The Mesdames consider the photographers as an article for the life of glamour, quoting thus: 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 warned my Mesdames’ collective heart. (Truong, p. 1)
It provides ambience rather than characterisation, a contrast to the naming and detailing of people in other works. Her reconstruction of life at 27 rue de Fleurus and the country house in Bilignin is factual, but unique in perspective. Scenes from the glamorous to the ordinary are thought of, seen live or overheard from the different places in the house, by a serving person called a chef—an Asian, a Vietnamese. One, no matter how much respect he gives to his masters, still is considered as a lowly. The servant, who is not considered a part of the earlier family.
He understood it very well. Thus, …it took the arrival of the photographers for me to understand that my Mesdames were not, well really mine; that they belonged to a country larger than I had ever been to; that its people had a right to embrace and to reclaim them as one of their own… guests… I always knew that after the third pot they would have to leave… My Mesdames had to pay me to stay around though. (Truong p. 2) The way he addressed his masters as “My Mesdames” gives him the authority over his masters, in terms of having to stay with them longer than the other guests of the house.
That might be the reason why, with the arrival of the photographers, he seemed too alienated with the masters/ mistresses. The observations of Truong through the eyes of Bihn have been the main structural emphasis of the narrative. The shift from the present to the past through Bihn’s imagination makes us more like an onlooker to another person’s vision. It was like reading through the internal voice of Bihn, with his middle finger crossed over his middle finger. We have seena n initial touch of emotion on his part in terms of how he looks up to his masters.
The beginning is a construction of his identity from servitude but this construction flinches at the interruption of flights of hope and pride. In the beginning chapter though, this servitude has been emphasized by his unusual admiration of the dog, and of how the Mesdames has been dressing the dog up. It seemed as if he was almost comparing himself to the dog of the owners of the house. In another occasion, he thought of the guests who have invited the Mesdames to travel invited only the Mesdames and not him. Well in this case, he has gone further.
It was like a metaphorical statement to emphasize that he himself is conscious of the status. His admiration and comparison of himself with the dog is not some simple innocent comparison. It was a denotation of his real status in the place of his life with the Mesdames. Going further, he had this love and affection splayed on the dogs. Yes he might have been a servant, but he has been a part of the family. I have always suspected that it was the closeness of our arrivals that made this animal behave so badly toward me. Jealousy is instinctual, after all.
every morning, my Mesdames insisted on washing Basket [the name of the dog] in a solution of sulfur water. A cleaner dog could not have existed anywhere else. Visitors to the rue de Fleurus often stopped in midsentence to admire Basket’s fur and its raw veal of pink. This was the admiration of a dog that I was talking about. However, the vanity that the Mesdames has given to the dog has been left to rot, as what seemed to be the admirable pink hue of the dog was really the result of a coming off of the hair which has been brought about by the sulfur solution that they have been splaying all over the dog.
In the moment that he was thinking of his early arrival in the home of the Mesdames and the traveling reverie that he was having, he suddenly receives a letter from his brother who appears later on to be the one who has taught him French and the tenets of servitude. He recalled how he wrote to him years before that and with this memory, he transported to another time, 1929. I had written to him at the end of 1929. I was drunk, sitting alone in a crowded cafe. That December was a terrible month to be in Paris. All my favorite establishments were either overly crowded or pathetically empty.
People either sipped fine vintages… or gulped intoxicants of who cares what kind, drowning themselves in a lack of moderation, raising a glass to lower inhibitions, or imbibing spirits to raise their own. Well, that was a description of the world at war. He need not say what was happening. The mere description of the bars and the establishments that time tells us that it was a time of crisis, and a time of tension in the atmosphere. Reading further on, it was told that it was the depression of the Americans. “The Americans were going home. ”… The Americans were pawning corduroys, three-ply wools, flannel-lined tweeds.
Seasonal clothing can only mean one thing. Desperation was demanding more closet space. Desperation was extending its stay… 1929 also brought with it frustration, heard in and around… month’s worth of unpaid bar tabs… skipped out hotel bills or the overdue rent bills… “The funds from home never crossed the Atlantic…” (Truong, p. 6) Yes, it was the desperation of America which probably he, as a chef in the food business, has been despaired of, but since they did not seem to like the Americans, when they left, “no one missed the Americans. ” (Truong p.
6) Well, he has described what has become of Paris as first, being filled with Americans, and next, filled with Americans who refused to be sober and got to destroy the city of Paris already. In that funny scheme, the Viet of our story remained to be at witness of the animosities between white people of different origins. It is funny how he has described the situation by first mentioning the trick of the trade for the Americans to survive at that time. I can imagine them in desperation, selling their clothing and then using what they have to languish themselves in lack of moderation.
I wonder how they have not found for themselves a proper job to alleviate them from this predicament. It is also a wonder for how being in exile Bihn, with a certain amount of resilience, withstood and survived this kind of environment and has stood up to remain as a person who is dignified and honored in the art of his profession. Such is a possession of a real diligent person belonging to the working class. Aside from the presence of the Americans, he mentioned, the existence of the Russians, Hungarians, Spaniards… who are “not nearly endowed but in other ways charmingly equipped.
” In this situation also, in the light of his December experience, he has made a very beautiful discovery through observation: the Parisians are spending money but they do not talk about it. It was like saying that money is not a key to be able to have conversations with other people. It is needed to buy the things that we need or want that serves as our avenue to get connected to the world. When gathered in their cafes, Parisians rarely spoke of money for very long. They exhausted the topic with one or two words. Sex, though, was an entirely different story, an epic really.
I always got my gossip and my world news for that matter at the cafes… the longer I stayed, the more I was able to comprehend. Alcohol, I had learned, was an eloquent if somewhat inaccurate interpreter. (Truong, p. 7) This part of the text was terrific. Saying that the Parisians talk about something more than money is good, and in this passage, we can picture Bihn not just as a narrator, but as an observer. You could smell the reek of alcohol among the Parisians as they talk about sex, politics, money, and other matters that people who can afford to buy a gulp of alcohol can say.
It is not to be forgotten that Bihn is not just a character. He was just a mouthpiece of Truong’s observations about the life of the Vietnamese people in exile. It was a first-hand account of how the plight of the Vietnamese immigrants established resilience and dignity in the middle of a war, and in the middle of a period where depression and desperation strikes Europe and the world. It is remembered that the first few chapters of a novel introduces the readers to the setting of the story.
It therefore expected that they would be filled with descriptions. But for an author to be able to transcend all other types of descriptions, he has to have a character, without boring out ordinary readers, which in my case she has not. This introduction has somehow, opened a reason for the readers to anticipate something anew—an observation that took us to see the different facets of the human reaction through another eye within our character Binh. I could not help but to agree to what another reviewer has said about the book.
Ultimately, salt is constructed as layer of intrigue that should not be perceptible, but which draws together the planning and hours of preparation which precede any dish, to make it articulate things beyond its physical presence. Later, Truong reveals the novel’s title as a mise en abyme: it is the title of one of Stein’s manuscripts, which Bihn steals at the request of his lover, Sweet Sunday Man. (Basilone 15) Works Cited Basilone, Vanessa. A Tongue for Tasting. 7 May 2009 < http://www. otherterrain. net/basilone. html> Truong, Monique. The Book of Salt. USA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004 .