Genre: Fiction, Canadian
Source: Random House Publishing
Publisher: Random House Publishing
First Published: August 26, 2014
First Line: "Maman and I don't look like one another."
Book Description from GoodReads: Mãn has three mothers: the one who gives birth to her in wartime, the nun who plucks her from a vegetable garden, and her beloved Maman, who becomes a spy to survive. Seeking security for her grown daughter, Maman finds Mãn a husband--a lonely Vietnamese restaurateur who lives in Montreal. Thrown into a new world, Mãn discovers her natural talent as a chef. Gracefully she practices her art, with food as her medium. She creates dishes that are much more than sustenance for the body: they evoke memory and emotion, time and place, and even bring her customers to tears. Mãn is a mystery--her name means "perfect fulfillment," yet she and her husband seem to drift along, respectfully and dutifully. But when she encounters a married chef in Paris, everything changes in the instant of a fleeting touch, and Mãn discovers the all-encompassing obsession and ever-present dangers of a love affair. Full of indelible images of beauty, delicacy and quiet power, Mãn is a novel that begs to be savoured for its language, its sensuousness and its love of life.
My Review: Mãn reads like a novella as Thuy tells her story via short chapters (some only a paragraph or two) about her immigration from Vietnam to Canada. The writing is simple but with a very unique and lyrical feel to it. It's not overdone, definitely not verbose and almost poetic as she recounts brief glimpses of Mãn's life to her readers.
"Mãn", which means "perfectly fulfilled", or "may there be nothing left to desire", or "may all wishes be granted". I can ask for nothing more because my name imposes on
me that state of satisfaction and satiety…I grew up without dreams.
As a reader I felt for Mãn and her cold and, for the most part, lonely existence. It was through her love of food and her Vietnamese culture that she found a way to endure. My favourite part of the book were the vivid descriptions of the Vietnamese inspired food. They were sprinkled throughout the book and illustrated how deeply our memories are linked through the preparation and sharing of food from our past and/or culture.
When mothers taught their daughters to cook, they spoke in hushed tones,
whispering so that their neighbours couldn’t steal recipes and possibly
seduce their husbands with the same dishes. Culinary traditions are
passed on secretly, like magic tricks between master and apprentice.
Lyrical writing and food descriptions aside, I have to admit that I struggled to stay invested in Mãn's story, to keep track of who certain characters were or even keep the story arc in plain view. A lot of this feeling stems from the fact that Thuy leaves a lot left unsaid in the book. I'm a 'need to know' kinda gal so when some scenes are only hinted at it left me wanting. For example, I found it unusual that readers aren't privy to Mãn's husband or children's names. I also wanted a more in depth look into certain aspects of her life (for example I would have loved to have learned more about Mãn's Maman). I felt like I was given a glimpse - a taste - into part of her life only for the story to move on before I was ready to let go.
Overall, this book had beautiful language and I loved how Thuy shared her love of food and her Vietnamese heritage with her readers. Unfortunately the beautiful prose had more weight than the story line and in the end I was left wanting a more definitive plot.
My Rating: 3/5 stars
Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Random House Publishing and Kim Thuy for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.