Exhibition: Food for Peace and Justice
— Monique Truong
Monique Truong is a Vietnamese American novelist, essayist, librettist, former refugee, avid eater, and retired intellectual property attorney (more or less in this order). Her novels are The Book of Salt (2003), Bitter in the Mouth (2010), and The Sweetest Fruits (2019), which have earned her a Guggenheim Fellowship, American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Rosenthal Family Foundation Award, U.S.-Japan Creative Artists Fellowship, PEN/Bingham Fellowship, Hodder Fellowship, and New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award, among others.
Truong was six years old when she fled to the United States with her family, just before the fall of Saigon in 1975. Initially living in refugee camps, then being sponsored to work on a rabbit farm in Boiling Springs, N.C., and finally settling in Houston. Truong now lives in Brooklyn, New York.
In an interview with Eleanor Wachtel from CBC, Monique talked about her relationship with food.
“I think about food all the time. I’m having breakfast and I’m thinking about what am I going to have for lunch. But that’s not what informs what I write about when I touch upon food. I’m more interested in the idea of what that food is meant to feed. Not just the body, but the soul, the spirit. Often, food is trying to meet a hunger of the spirit and the soul that it rarely can fully sate. But we reach to it anyway.
“When my family and I first came to the United States as refugees in 1975, food became such a component of home that was no longer there. The basic ingredients were no longer there — and yet slowly but surely my mother and father began to piece that element of their life together.”
Truong has an inventive way of exploring themes of displacement, power, love and redemption through food. The theme for the Madras Café Unlocked exhibition is Food for Peace and Justice and Truong’s prose certainly fits comfortably within them, she says:
“In The Gastronomical Me, the doyenne of American food writers, M.F.K. Fisher wrote, ‘People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don’t you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way others do?’ Her concise response was ‘[L]ike most other humans, I am hungry.’ If I were to add to it, I would say, “When Fisher and writers like her, myself included, write about food we are writing about power, security, love and, without a doubt, about peace and justice.”
We are delighted to welcome Monique Truong to our live book club event for Madras Café Unlocked. Expect a riveting discussion of her mesmerising first novel, The Book of Salt, and have your questions at the ready for the live Q&A.
Truong writes, “Every time I’ve the honor of being part of a book club discussion, I think of Roland Barthes’ admonition, “The author is dead.” I was a literary theory major at college, so I know full well that he meant “dead” in the figurative sense, but still I always laugh at being able to prove Barthes wrong.
“To be read is a great privilege, but to engage with readers is an absolute pleasure.”