Bitter in the Mouth

Bitter in the Mouth,
a semi-autobiographical novel, is about a Vietnamese girl (Linda) who
grows up in a small North Carolina town. Linda is the only minority
child in all-white classrooms. Making life even harder for her is the
neurological condition she suffers from--synesthesia. Words evoke
tastes for sufferers of this genetic anomaly. "Incomings," as Linda
calls the speech she hears, can be upsetting because too many senses are
stimulated at once. Linda feels acutely different from
others--especially her white parents--and her feelings of isolation and
loneliness are acute. The only relative she truly bonds with is her
uncle, Baby Harper. Linda senses he is a kindred spirit from the moment
she sets eyes on him.

A quality that distinguishes
Truong's books is her descriptive language as well as her use of
food--literally and figuratively. In this passage, Linda is telling us
about synesthesia.

My first memory was a taste. For
most of my life I have carried this fact with me not as a mystery,
which it still is, but as a secret...There was something bitter in the
mouth, and there was the word that triggered it...It was bitter in the
way that greens...were often bitter. Or in the way that simmering
resentment was bitter.
(P. 15)

In an interview
for Lamda Literary (posted 26.Aug, 2010 by Jihii Jolly), we come to
understand that the author and her main character share past experiences
and past hurts. As Truong writes:

I set Bitter in the Mouth
in Boiling Springs, NC, the small town where my family first lived in
the U.S. because I wanted to revisit those first three years that have
defined me in so many ways. I like to say that I am a Southern girl,
twice over: south Vietnam and the American South.  It's only the former
that defines me in people's eyes. But Boiling Springs is where I learned
how to speak English. Boiling Springs was where I became--in a blink of
an eye--not just a little girl but a Chink, a Jap, and a Gook (all the
names my classmates called me). Boiling Springs was where I learned that
I was physically different, ugly, and a target. So yes, I wanted to
revisit this small town that I have carried with me with so much anger,
and I wanted to make it mine. I wanted to tell my version of its story.

And
tell it she does. Truong creates a moving coming of age story with a
happy ending. This is a good book for readers who enjoyed The Book of Salt,
as well as for those who are fans of multicultural literature. 
Although the author does digress into historical narrative that seems unrelated to the plot, this is none-the-less a well-crafted story with eccentric, three-dimensional characters.

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