Sunday, March 28, 2010


STEALING BUDDHA'S DINNER is described as a memoir.  Nguyen shares her experiences as a Vietnamese refugee coming to America in 1975. 

When the Nguyen name appeared on the list, there were three areas in the US offering to sponsor families.  According to Bich (pronounced Bit) Nguyen, her family rejected California as "warm but had the most lunatics" and Wyoming as having "cowboys" which left the only remaining option - Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Settling in Grand Rapids, placed Bich, her older sister, her father, and grandmother, in the middle of a Christian Reformed Dutch community.  Their traditional Buddhist beliefs raised many eyebrows in their neighborhood and school lives.  Bich tells of her father's job at the North American Feather Company where he made feather pillows and comforters and brought home rejected bedding for the family.  While he worked, the girls were under the care of their grandmother until he met and married a Hispanic woman named Rosa.  Their family then included a step-sister and soon a new baby brother.

Much of STEALING BUDDHA'S DINNER involves adjusting to life in America.  Once the girls started school, exposure to American culture increased beyond the influence of TV.  Most temptations in the early years came in the form of new and amazing food like candy, fast food, and convenience foods they observed and wished for constantly.  Bich's descriptions of all the tasty treats points out the glutinous importance Americans place on food.

Scattered throughout the pages are interesting facts about Vietnamese culture and Buddhist traditions.  As a family, the Nugyens struggled to fit into their new surroundings but also remain true to their own beliefs and customs.  It is clear in reading STEALING BUDDHA'S DINNER, that Bich's family experiences mirror those of every family and are remembered at times fondly and at other times painfully. 

I read this book as part of an upcoming program at my public library intended to highlight the history of the Vietnamese in Michigan.  I am looking forward to learning more.

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