The Book of Salt Essay

Submitted By clarkj832
Words: 1485
Pages: 6

Page 1
Jaclyn Clark
Asian-American Lit
Final Paper
11/10/14
Salt and Sex In Monique Truong’s novel The Book of Salt we take an inside look at living in Paris as Vietnamese immigrant. The main character Bhin is a young man who is trying to make a living as a live in cook in the city. Throughout the novel we get to experience the different relationships he has during his time employed by various Monsieurs and Madames while living in France. The most prominent of these being the infamous GertrudeStein and her life partner Alice Toklas. It is while under employment with GertrudeStein that Bhin is posed the question, “how would you define ‘love’?”(Truong 36). This question that sets the tone for the rest of the novel as to what love means to Bhin. Since Bhin is a cook, and has been for most of his life, he always relates his many relationships in the novel to food or some aspect of cooking. I would like to take a closer look into this connection Bhin makes between romance and food by examining the significance of each relationship Bhin has with different men throughout the novel. In the Book of Salt we find that every romantic experience Bhin has is connected to a particular experience related to food or cooking. The first of Bhin’s romances we are introduced to is Chef Bleriot, whom he met while working at the Governor-General’s office. This is also the first time we are introduced to the
Page 2 comparison of a developing romance to an element of cooking. Bhin refers to his relationship with Bleriot as being slow to develop. “Bleriot, though, took his time. He was a cook, after all. For tenderness, we all know that braising is better than an open flame”(62). In the world of cooking, to braise something means to cover the dish and cook it at a very low simmer until the meat is so tender a knife is not required for cutting. Bhin uses this analogy to describe how his romance with Bleriot developed. In the beginning Bleriot would have Bhin accompany him to the market to help him buy ingredients for the kitchen, Bhin acting as a translator since Bleriot did not know much French. After continuing this for some time they began to eventually stay out later and later until Bhin and Bleriot would be walking around at dark where “the space between our bodies began to disappear. Effortlessly, we began to touch”(63). This effortlessness in which Bhin and Bleriot’s relationship was taken to the next level is in the same as how when a dish is braised it becomes tender enough to cut with a fork. The “tenderness” that was cultivated from their drawn out courtship was developed in the same way one would develop tenderness in a dish. The next lover I would like to discuss is Marcus Lattimore also referred to as the Sweet Sunday Man. While Bhin is under the employment of GertudeStein he receives another job offer to come cook for a man on Sunday’s who attended a party of sorts at the house and was impressed by his cooking, particularly his desserts. When Bhin is deciding on the menu he is told to keep the dessert simple, it is here that we see Bhin use food again as an analogy for romance. “A soufflé is most definitely out of the question. Too temperamental, a lover who dictates his own terms. A tart is better, uncomplicated, in the wrong hands even a bit rough”(79). This quote is, I believe, a foreshadowing for Bhin’s relationship with the Sunday Man. Their relationship
Page 3 was meant to be simple, the same as the tart dessert. After first evening they spend together Bhin seems unphased by what has happened, saying he will forget what has happened, putting it in the back of his mind so as to not dwell on the situation. “Pleasure for pleasure is an even exchange”(83). Later on however after Bhin continues to see Lattimore their relationship becomes more complicated and temperamental like that of the soufflé. Lattimore is very interested in GertrudeStein and requests that Bhin steal one of her notebooks for him to read. At…