Cookies and punch awaited the Great Michigan Reads author Bich Minh Nguyen at Lansing Community College following a reading and discussion of her book “Stealing Buddha’s Dinner”. Cookies were ok, but Twinkies and Pringles would’ve been more appropriate for the author who used American junk food as aÂ metaphor for assimilation in her book about her childhood in Grand Rapids Michigan. The author, as a baby, was part of the last exodus from Vietnam, in 1975, as it was taken back by the North Vietnamese.
Minh-Nguyen told the audience that her book is setÂ “in a time before multiculturalism; the time before Sushi and Thai food andÂ when Grand Rapids didn’t have anyÂ coffee shops”.Â She said everything in her memoir is about assimilation and outsiders. She said growing up she learned to speak her first English from Sesame Street and “Police Woman”.
“One of the first things I remember is running through the house saying I am Angie Dickinson,” she said.
The author is on a five stop tour in the state to promote the reading of her book as part of the Michigan Humanities Council Great Michigan Read Program. Meijer, the programÂ sponsor, is mentioned numerous times in the book as an influence on her “Americanization”. She said she was a very literal child and thought she had to read English literature.
“All in all, I’m glad I read Dicken’s, it taught me how to write a sentence.”
She also gave a shout out to libraries and librarians and said, “I got all my books from the Library.” She said since she liked to have the books close to her that she “always had overdue fines”.
“I remember feeling going to the public library and feeling greedy,” she said.
She stressed that, “You are never alone with a good book.”
She said one of her favorite books, “As I Lay Dying” by Faulkner gave her permission to write, but it was while she was at U-M and reading Maxine Hong’ Kingstone that she realized she could tell her story from her own point of view and use her own voice.
“Before that all my heroines were blond and blue eyed.”
Minh-Nyugen told the audience that her entire goal growing up was to be “invisible” and reminded them that the only people that can do that are “outsiders”.
Responding to a question from the audience about how she might raise her own children she said, “I can only assume I am in for a lot of trouble. I was a bad child.”
She said her son would have to figure it out for himself-“that’s the American experience”.
The author also reminded anyone reading her first work of fiction “Short Girls” that “It’s not true-except for the title”.
Read more about the author and the book by clicking here.