04 September 2015
Mãn by Kim Thúy
A triumph of poetic beauty and a moving meditation on how love and food are inextricably entwined, Mãn is a seductive and luminous work of literature from Kim Thúy, whose first book, Ru, was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, received a Governor General's Literary Award and won the nationwide book competition Canada Reads.
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.
Mãn is a book that I might probably have picked up and read all on my own. It was slated for feature in the Discover Bay at the store (I walk past the display multiple times during a shift) and I like to pick books out of that list. However...some smart person at Kim Thúy's publisher decided to purchase sponsorships for Book Riot podcasts so for a week-and-then-some this book was in my ears.
Of course I had to have it.
Mãn is one of the best, best books I read or will read this year. It is a beautiful, slim, delicately wrought novel comprised of tiny flash-style chapters and a word for each chapter translated into Vietnamese in the margin. (Aside: the physical design of Mãn is soul-destroyingly beautiful.) It is a the story of a woman trying to find where she belongs in the world. It is the story of a culture that has held onto so many of its traditions even as its people are forced to disperse around the globe. It is the story of ordinary people who make sacrifices. It is a story of how food can convey emotion and memory. All of this is packed into 140 spare, quiet pages.
A perfect novel for a rainy, quiet evening. I'll definitely have my eye out for Ru in the future.