Sunday, September 19, 2021

Mango and Peppercorns

  Mango and Peppercorns
Author:  Tung Nguyen, Katherine Manning, Lyn Nguyen
Publication Information:  Chronicle Books. 2021. 224 pages.
ISBN:  1797202243 / 978-1797202242

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "As the Vietnam War came to a close in the spring of 1975 with North Vietnam victorious, people began to flee impending Communist rule."

Favorite Quote:  "Refugees are here because they have no choice. They also bring enormous gifts and talents, as Tung did. They just need an opportunity. I  hope our story inspires others to understand that people from different backgrounds can find common ground if we just listen to each other. We can all be bigger than our individual selves. We all have tremendous power to change the lives of others and help the world become more mixed and accepting ... Everyone can get to know people who are different than they are. Everyone can help where they see a need. We all have stories to tell, and the best thing we can do for ourselves and the world is to listen to each other."

Tung Nguyễn fled Vietnam in 1975, 23 years old, pregnant, and alone. She landed in Miami and had the good fortune to meet and be given shelter and friendship by Kathy Manning. Kathy Manning was a graduate student at the time and opened up her home to refugees. Upon their meeting, neither imagined how far their friendship and partnership would flourish. Neither imagined that they would become friends, family, and business partners. "Why has their friendship endured for so many years, despite so many differences in culture and personality? Their values are the same. They share a firm sense of right and wrong. They take care of others who need help, even when doing so makes their own lives harder. They both always stand on their own two feet, proudly defining and making their own success."

This is a story of the immigrant roots of our nation, the welcoming shore, the contribution of immigrants - first generation and beyond - to this nation. "In all this strangeness, this tree gave me comfort and familiarity and strength. It was once a young tree, planted in new soil. Now it had grown higher than Kathy's roof. its red flowers providing cover for the yard and the house. I began to think of myself as a tree, too: a young tree, planted in new soil in the land of America. Now that I had water and dirt, I, too, would grow - roots, branches, and soon, the first young leaf."

This is also a story of food. Tung Nguyen learned how to cook in her family home. The food comes from the heart, and she is an inspired cook. Kathy Manning saw the potential and encouraged a career based on that talent and passion. They began with home parties and went on to create the immensely popular restaurant Hy Vong. Tung was the chef, while Kathy managed the business. This led to both progress and conflict.

Sadly, the restaurant closed in 2015, but its following remains. The book, which includes family photos and 20 recipes from Hy Vong, is marketed both as a memoir and a cookbook. According to its website, the restaurant offers pick up on certain dates with a menu that changes with each pick up date.

Ultimately, this is a book about the American dream, and the challenges and hurdles that face who try to achieve it. Both Tung and Kathy face different struggles, each in their own way searching for that elusive ideal. This book chronicles their challenges and the occasional moments when they appear to have achieved it. This book gives a face - one of many - to refugees and immigrants wanting and working so hard to achieve the ideal they believe possible. Through Tung's story, it highlights just one story of why someone may leave all they love and know behind to begin again. It brings to life the challenge of life as an immigrant, where, at times, you seem to fit not in your adopted home and not in the place you left. In Kathy's story, it epitomizes the welcome and the support that created the melting pot of this nation. Given the political climate in this nation at this point, this is a timely book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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