After enjoying the novel Ru, I was very excited to read the next book by Kim Thúy which was translated from French to English. The story alternates between Mãn’s early life as a child in Vietnam and her present life, as a wife and mother, in Montreal. This Canadian author has shared that this is her most personal work to date.
“Mãn, which means “perfectly fulfilled,” or “may there be nothing left to desire,” or “may all wishes be granted.”
During the Vietnam War, Mãn follows her Maman during her work as a spy. As she ages, she is married to a man and sent to live in Montreal. Like her name, Mãn, lives a life of satisfaction. The couple open and run a Vietnamese restaurant together. This restaurant becomes very popular and patrons enjoy their daily specials which are reminiscent of their homeland. Mãn enjoys the freedom of her life and cooking in Montreal but is trapped in her “satisfied” life – between her homeland where she would not longer fit in and her new life in Canada where her children are growing up.
The restaurant leads to the development of a cooking school and to a published cookbook. Through her success, she travels and meets the love of her life in France. Luc is a married, Vietnamese cook who shares her love of the special dishes of their childhood. Again, Mãn lives in two words – between the steady life with her husband and children and the passionate love she feels for Luc, who has his own family. While the relationship is gently shared, the reader wonders if her husband had any idea?
This is a thoughtful story built of short chapters which capture snippets of time and history. The emotions and feelings are often described through the painstaking traditional dishes that Mãn takes time to make for others. It is interesting to learn more about Vietnamese culture and food through her novel and although I enjoyed this story, I would recommend that others read Ru first.