A couple of weeks ago I was talking on the phone with my friend Jean in New York. She told me about a memoir she was reading: Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat (Random House, 2013). For 20 years Jean has been giving me amazing book recommendations, so I picked it up this week.
Eddie Huang had a rough childhood. When he’s a boy, his parents move the family from Washington, DC to Orlando, Florida where his father opens a steak and seafood restaurant. Eddie is bullied because he looks different from the other kids at school and eats Chinese food for lunch, not the white bread sandwiches and Capri Suns the other kids bring.
But instead of adhering to the model minority stereotype, Eddie does his own thing. His father, Louis Huang, was a gangster in Taipei before he moved to the US for college. Louis teaches his son to fight back–but only if Eddie is in a position to win. This advice proves to both help and hurt Eddie. By the time he’s in college, Eddie feels worried about his future if he doesn’t find a happy medium between a parent-approved profession and full-time prison.
In college Eddie spends a summer in Taipei, his parents’ birthplace, and learns to appreciate Taiwanese street food and the opportunities that await him back in the US.
Fresh Off the Boat is a food memoir that’s heavy on the personal story, which I love. It’s why this book works so well. His memoir is also a coming of age story that speaks to race and identity in America, and how difficult it is to be a first or second generation kid here.
Eddie Huang’s story is inspirational for anyone who has been told he or she can’t do something because of a physical feature. The narrative is written in vernacular street language, so as a suburban Jewish mother I sometimes felt a tad lost. But I did pick up quite a few new terms.
If I lived in New York, I’d rush over to Baohaus, Huang’s restaurant in the East Village. I hope to have that opportunity some day.