Mãn by Kim Thúy
Random House Canada
Available on August 26, 2014
Kindle edition, $22.00
“At that precise moment, I knew that I would always remain standing, that he would never think of making room for me beside him because that was the sort of man he was, alone and lonely.” — Kim Thúy
I devoured Kim Thúy’s sophomoric novel Mãn in one sitting, as the people of the book revelled in the savory, caramelized fish dishes prepared by the main character. This short book cuts right to the chase, so it’s difficult to get attached to the characters. They may not linger in your heart for long, but the author’s fine use of language and imagery sure will.
Due to her mother’s initiative, Mãn weds an older, lonely Vietnamese man who runs a restaurant in Montreal, Canada. She leads a comfortable, resigned life, working alongside her husband in a convenient partnership. Little by little, Mãn adds her own flavour and love to their restaurant’s dishes. Patrons soon flock to her restaurant in droves for the sweet taste of Vietnam. Some are even brought to tears for the taste of home is all-consuming. Mãn eventually publishes a successful recipe book. Her book tour takes her to Paris. In this French city, our narrator has her first taste of true love.
The story of Mãn is predictable, fitting a familiar, prescribed mold. Still, its original format —similar to a long, narrative poem twisting and turning from Mãn’s narrative to her mother’s— is engrossing. Kim Thúy shines most when weaving lyrical language into her story to bring the smells and tastes of Vietnam to life. I read this novel in English and then sampled my favorite passages in the original French version. The French author chooses her words carefully, to evoke simplicity and beauty in the same breathe. The English translator —Sheila Fischman— also achieves this effect. The readers may not fall in love with the characters in this short book since it doesn’t delve deep into their psyche. Still, Thúy’s command of language will wash over them in a brilliant cascade of colours, making the quick read a pleasurable experience.
*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.*