Join us for our first book club featuring Monique Truong’s The Sweetest Fruits with a guest visit by the author herself. Truong is a Vietnamese American author based in Brooklyn and known for her writing (both fiction and nonfiction) about food, foodways, hunger for, and memories of home. Her first two novels The Book of Salt and Bitter in the Mouth each won multiple awards and we are thrilled to be collaborating with Singapore Unbound to feature her third novel as our inaugural book club in the Radical Book Collective’s first official season.
Born in Saigon, Monique Truong came to the US as a refugee in 1975, and talks frequently about how this formative experience of displacement enters her work. Very often this is through food and food metaphors, as the titles of her novels suggest. While The Sweetest Fruits is not autobiographical in any way, Truong has described it as “a Vietnamese refugee narrative, but with no Vietnamese in it.” Very much about the search for home and belonging, however, the text circles the life story of the 19th century orientalist Lafcadio Hearn--a Greek-Irish food writer, traveler, and translator of Japanese folklore--by centering the stories of the three most important women in his life. As such, it is both a book about “the women who make work possible” (as LARB podcast Medaya Ocher put it), and an exploration of how the truth of Hearn’s life and work might be told, as Emily Dickinson advises in Truong’s epigraph to the book, “slant”: from imagining the voices ignored by or lost to history.
On writing this kind of historical fiction, Truong has said : “My project is to write in the spaces in between the facts. When it comes to writing about women and women of color, the space in between the facts is a vast territory… [Professor Saidiya Hartman writes that] if you approach these voices of the subaltern and marginalized, of the enslaved, then you must acknowledge that there is an inherent failure to your project [because there is so rarely anything in the archives about them]… I think if you’re clear-eyed about [that failure], you’re better off than thinking that you’re some sort of savior or reclaimer of something lost.”
In the video below, Truong discusses her childhood as her family fled to the United States, just before the fall of Saigon in 1975 and were sponsored to work on a rabbit farm in Boiling Springs, N.C. Food, she explains, allowed them to keep a vital connection to Vietnam and her local library allowed her to become an avid reader.