I read the memoir Fresh off the Boat based on a student recommendation, and I am so glad I did. Essentially, it is a bildungsroman of an American Born Chinese man with a terrific sense of humor and of style. I recently read a tweet citing Eddie Huang as saying he read Junot Diaz, not Anthony Bourdain, and I can see the influence in little ways, like the use of footnotes, but I can also see the similarities of a young man negotiating his identity. I also just found out Huang has a second book I plan to read this summer: Double Cup Love.
In class last week, we talked about how books could be windows or mirrors, and one of my students told me why I should read Fresh off the Boat: “It’s such an important book for every Chinese/Taiwanese American to read, especially if they’ve found themselves stuck between a mirror and window all their lives.” That made a lot of sense after reading this. It tells Eddie’s story of growing up in Orlando, having to deal with racism at a young age, and his anger in reaction to it. I applauded his inability to just let things go and I marvelled at his tenacity to hold on to his ideals in all stages of his life. I also now really want to visit his restaurant, Baohaus, in New York.
The show based on this book is apparently not nearly as raw as the book itself, and Huang has argued the ABC sitcom has been sanitized, which, to be fair, makes sense for ABC because the book is riddled with the f-bomb as well as drugs and some fairly violent scenes. I’m not saying it should have been sanitized, but I was trying to think if it would be OK for me to recommend this book to students with all the violence, drugs, and swearing in it. I’ve come to believe it would be a good choice read, but would probably not fly as a full class read, which is unfortunate.
Huang’s acerbic wit, clever allusions, and raw honesty make this a must-read. As usual, here are some favorite passages:
- “Food at its best uplifts the whole community, makes everyone rise to its standard.”
- “There are pieces of you that are inherently yours, but everything else is a collection of the things you’ve seen & the people you’ve met.”
- “I wanted to taste the broth: intense, deep, and mind-numbing. It was one of those bites that makes you think maybe, just maybe, your taste buds carry a cognitive key that can open something in your mind.”
- “The airport honestly felt more like home to me than either Taiwan or Florida, and I enjoyed every moment…I guess it’s the only place I didn’t have to explain anything. Everything was in-between.”
- “I started to realize books weren’t meant to be understood one way or the other. We took Julius Caesar and made it mean something entirely different than Feddell, Harold Bloom, or maybe Shakespeare ever expected.”