tình bạn ~ friendship

Excerpt from Mãn by Kim Thúy

Photo by Sam McNamara on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book Mãn by Kim Thúy, translated from the French by Sheila Fischman.

tình bạn ~ friendship

Julie was the first to stick her head into the opening through which I delivered the plates. Her smile stretched from one side of the aperture to the other. The enthusiasm of her greeting was like that of an archaeologist upon discovering a trace of the first kiss. Promptly, before even a word was uttered, we became friends, and with time, sisters. She adopted me as she’d adopted her daughter, without questioning our past. She took me to see movies in the afternoon, or we would watch classics at her place. She opened her refrigerator and had me taste its contents in no particular order, according to her mood of the day: from smoked meat to tourtière, ketchup to sauce béchamel, and including celery root, rhubarb, bison, pouding chômeur and pickled eggs. Sometimes Julie would come and cook with me. I ld show her how to keep sticky rice in superimposed layers of banana leaves by squeezing them firmly but without smothering the rice. It’s always a fragile balance, one that fingers can feel better than words can explain.

At the end of every January, we had to prepare several dozen of the treats because my husband wanted to offer them to his friends and his distant relatives for the Vietnamese New Year, as his mother used to do in her village. The scent of banana leaves cooked in boiling water for many hours reminded him of the days before Tết when the whole neighbourhood spent the night feeding the fire under cauldrons full of rice rolls stuffed with mung bean paste, smooth and as discreetly yellow as the moon.

Julie came to our restaurant often. She invited her friends for lunch, organized monthly meetings of her book group, and reserved the entire restaurant to celebrate family birthdays and wedding anniversaries. Every time, she brought me out of the kitchen to be introduced to her guests, embracing me with her whole body. She was the big sister I’d never had, and I was her daughter’s Vietnamese mother.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Mãn – Summary

Here is the book summary:

Mãn has three mothers: the one who gives birth to her in wartime, the nun who plucks her from a vegetable garden, and her beloved Maman, who becomes a spy to survive. Seeking security for her grown daughter, Maman finds Mãn a husband – a lonely Vietnamese restaurateur who lives in Montreal.

Thrown into a new world, Mãn discovers her natural talent as a chef. Gracefully she practices her art, with food as her medium. She creates dishes that are much more than sustenance for the body: they evoke memory and emotion, time and place, and even bring her customers to tears.

Mãn is a mystery – her name means ‘perfect fulfillment’, yet she and her husband seem to drift along, respectfully and dutifully. But when she encounters a married chef in Paris, everything changes in the instant of a fleeting touch, and Mãn discovers the all-encompassing obsession and ever-present dangers of a love affair.

Full of indelible images of beauty, delicacy and quiet power, Mãn is a novel that begs to be savoured for its language, its sensuousness and its love of life.

Copyright © 2013 by Kim Thúy.

Translated by Sheila Fischman (English version published 2014)

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

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