Saturday, February 23, 2013

Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir by Eddie Huang

Reading a memoir can be a difficult thing.  On some level, I need to relate to the author.  In most cases, this means that I have to have some life experiences in common with the author.  Such is definitely not the case with Eddie Huang in his memoir Fresh Off the Boat.  He and I are as different as can be.  Some of the things he wrote about made little sense to me.  While I know enough urban slang to not embarrass myself, he clearly knows more than I will ever know.  He owns a restaurant, and I barely know how to boil water.  I have little interest in hip hop culture, while he could get a degree in the subject (were it offered in school).  Despite all this, I must admit—I laughed more than once reading Fresh Off the Boat.  And I wanted to tell people about this book.  And despite some of my head-scratching moments while reading, I enjoyed this book quite a lot.

 First of all, before reading, I had never heard of Eddie Huang.  He is the owner of a restaurant in New York called Baohous.  It is a hot spot serving up authentic Taiwanese food that tastes just like food you would be able to get from a street vendor—if you were able to fly to Taiwan.  He also made and appearance on the Food Network as a competitor on Ultimate Recipe Showdown.  His life as a restaurateur is not in the spotlight until the last few pages of the book.  Rather the focus is instead on his assimilation (or lack thereof) into American culture, his experiences growing up Asian in America, and his finding his own path to his unique voice.
Eddie’s parents came FOB (“fresh off the boat”).  His father owns profitable steak and seafood restaurants in Florida.  His mother upholds the Asian stereotype and expects her son to behave as a model of civility and academics.  Eddie has a different agenda.  Tiring of being called a “chink” and being made fun off, Eddie finds his place within the hip-hop community.  He sells high-end athletic shoes, learns the language of the streets, and enters the drug world by becoming a dealer.  After an arrest, he gets sent back to Taiwan.  While there, he immerses himself in the culture, and despite a foray into law school, he ultimately finds his place in creating food that reminds him of his family. 
I found the dichotomy between Eddie’s family’s expectations and his inner life to be quite entertaining.  I laughed out loud at a scene in the car when Eddie’s mother sees his report card.  When he gets a C in trigonometry, there is a family scene in which his brother punishes Eddie because his mother can’t reach him while she is driving her van.  Similarly, his mother’s objections when Eddie is caught with dirty pictures made me giggle.  (She is not as concerned with him being a deviant when he tells her that he sells them to make money.)  
There were some parts of the book that I found off-putting.  The level of profanity is quite high, and truthfully, I did not understand most of the hip-hop references.  Most of the New York references went over my head as well, and while I know that high-end athletic shoes are prized by some, the vocabulary that went along with the trade was completely confusing to me.
While Eddie does not fit at all with the stereotype of an Asian overachiever, he does value his culture and seeks to find the best parts of it. The themes of finding one’s own identity, following your passion, and the value of family overcame any of the issues that detracted from my enjoyment of Fresh Off the Boat.  Very readable and entertaining.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Regina

No comments:

Post a Comment

The old grey donkey, Eeyore stood by himself in a thistly corner of the Forest, his front feet well apart, his head on one side, and thought about things. Sometimes he thought sadly to himself, "Why?" and sometimes he thought, "Wherefore?" and sometimes he thought, "Inasmuch as which?" and sometimes he didn't quite know what he was thinking about.

Thank you for taking time out of your day to leave a comment. It's appreciated.