The Book of Salt

In Paris, in 1934, Bình has accompanied his employers, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, to the train station for their departure to America. His own destination is unclear: will he go with “the Steins,” stay in France, or return to his native Vietnam? For five years, he has been the live-in cook at the famous apartment at 27 rue de Fleurus. Before Bình’s decision is revealed, his mesmerizing narrative catapults us back to his youth in French-colonized Vietnam, his years as a galley hand at sea, and his days turning out fragrant repasts for the doyennes of the Lost Generation.

In The Book of Salt, Bình knows far more than the contents of the Steins’ pantry: he knows their routines and intimacies, their manipulations and follies. With wry insight, he views Stein and Toklas ensconced in blissful domesticity. But is Bình’s account reliable? A lost soul, he is a late-night habitué of the Paris demimonde, an exile and an alien, a man of musings and memories, and, possibly, lies.

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Press & Praise

New York Times Notable Fiction

Miami Herald Top 10 Books

St. Petersburg Times Best First Novel

Michael Upchurch of the Seattle Times Top 10 Books

Charles Mathews of the San Jose Mercury News 10 Favorite Books

Village Voice 25 Favorite Books

Chicago Tribune Favorite Fiction Books

Sydney Morning Herald Best Food Books

Taipei Times Best Asia-Focused Books

Library Journal’s Best First Novels Spring/Summer

Elegant, witty, intricate, and richly imagined, Monique Truong’s Book of Salt is—dare I say it?—a delicious and deeply satisfying novel. Truong’s stellar cast of characters includes Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, artsy American divas living privileged, glamorous lives in Paris. But her story belongs to Binh, their Vietnamese live-in cook, a stoic young man of many secrets. Binh is the narrator, the anguished soul at the center of this sensual and ironic tale of love, loss, passion, exile, and identity.

—Jessica Hagedorn, author of Dogeaters and Toxicology

A fascinating, original, and sharply written story with vivid insights into the world of cooking.

—Jacques Pepin

An exquisitely rendered work of a tone-perfect imagination. The Book of Salt is made to be devoured in a single night—a rare and genuine pleasure.

—Andrew X. Pham, author of Catfish and Mandala

An irresistible, scrupulously engineered confection that weaves together history, art, and human nature…a veritable feast.

—Los Angeles Times

A debut of pungent sensuousness and intricate, inspired animation…a marvelous tale.


A lush, fascinating, expansive first novel.

—The New York Times Book Review

Addictive…Deliciously written…Both eloquent and original.

—Entertainment Weekly

Deftly orchestrated, wantonly alive . . . If this is what Truong can do the first time out, there’s no telling what she’ll pull off next.

—The Seattle Times