Non Fiction

Salted Plums by Alison Hồng Nguyễn Lihalakha

The author’s full name is on the cover for a reason. It may be a mouthful, but it carries the weight of her experiences and her discovery of herself (or so I presume, based on my reading of the book).
I am on a non-fiction spree this year, much to my delight. I have been able to cover a wide range of topics, and I can safely say that I have not come across this particular angle this year. The author is a Vietnamese refugee who became a US citizen and struggled with her identity as a child and beyond. Due to habit, the parents imparted just the bare minimum of their past to their children while insisting on their own culture be followed that put her in a more awkward position than she would have been otherwise.
In some ways, during the author’s childhood, there was a continuous influx of people from that part of the world, but her understanding of the political situation of her own ancestral country, as well as the neighbouring ones, is minimal at best. This is not new, most of us have only a brief understanding of the larger machinations of the world, and this is where reading books like these help introduce us to the world at large.
This is a deeply personal story that the author manages to convey while showing how her own behaviour in some stages might not have been the best one without lingering on it. I found the flow of the story a little off at times, but not enough to put me off the book. I kept reading because I wanted her to find her own place in the world (which she eventually did, obviously). She suffered through hardships and had to work hard to find her own happy place, and I was glad to reach the end.
I would highly recommend reading this book if you want to know more about the complexities of multiple ethnic identities in a time when things were cut and dried. Times have changed for some things, especially food. Food is a sticking point that points to a significant difference between children of Asian descent and those of European ones. I think that is one thing that a globalized world has helped bridge to some extent. It is not hard to imagine the discomfort the author felt as a child being that different from most of the children around her!

I read this as an ARC, thanks to NetGalley and the publishers, but the review is entirely based on my own reading experience.

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