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“I’ve never read a book that made me weep, wince, laugh out loud, and rejoice like Slow Noodles. In Chantha Nguon’s harrowing, wise, and fiercely feminist memoir, cooking is a language—of love, remembrance, and rebellion—and stories are nourishment."
—Maggie Smith, New York Times bestselling author of You Could Make This Place Beautiful
Take a well-fed nine-year-old with a big family and a fancy education. Fold in 2 revolutions, 2 civil wars, and one wholesale extermination. Subtract a reliable source of food, life savings, and family members, until all are gone. Shave down childhood dreams for approximately two decades, until only subsistence remains.
In Slow Noodles, Chantha Nguon recounts her life as a Cambodia refugee who lost everything and everyone—her house, her country, her parents, her siblings, her friends—everything but the memories of her mother’s kitchen, the tastes and aromas of the foods her mother made before the dictator Pol Pot tore her country apart in the 1970s, killing millions of her compatriots. Nguon’s irrepressible spirit and determination come through in this emotional and poignant but also lyrical and magical memoir that includes over 20 recipes for Khmer dishes like chicken lime soup, banh sung noodles, pâté de foie, curries, spring rolls, and stir-fries. For Nguon, recreating these dishes becomes an act of resistance, of reclaiming her place in the world, of upholding the values the Khmer Rouge sought to destroy, and of honoring the memory of her beloved mother.
From her idyllic early years in Battambang to hiding as a young girl in Phnom Penh as the country purges ethnic Vietnamese like Nguon and her family, from her escape to Saigon to the deaths of mother and sister there, from the poverty and devastation she experiences in a war-ravaged Vietnam to her decision to flee the country. We follow Chantha on a harrowing river crossing into Thailand—part of the exodus that gave rise to the name “boat people”—and her decades in a refugee camp there, until finally, denied passage to the West, she returns to a forever changed Cambodia. Nguon survives by cooking in a brothel, serving drinks in a nightclub, making and selling street food, becoming a suture-nurse treating refugees abused by Thai authorities, and weaving silk. Through it all, Nguon relies on her mother’s “slow noodles” approach to healing and to cooking, one that prioritizes time and care over expediency. Haunting and evocative, Slow Noodles is a testament to the power of culinary heritage to spark the rebirth of a young woman’s hopes for a beautiful life.
“I’ve never read a book that made me weep, wince, laugh out loud, and rejoice like Slow Noodles. In Chantha Nguon’s harrowing, wise, and fiercely feminist memoir, cooking is a language—of love, remembrance, and rebellion—and stories are nourishment."Maggie Smith, New York Times bestselling author of You Could Make This Place Beautiful
"A heart-lifting story of radiant compassion, Slow Noodles reminds us of a life-affirming truth: Even when all seems lost, who we most essentially are, like what we most unerringly love, somehow remains. We have never needed this beautiful book more.”Margaret Renkl, author of Late Migrations
“With hauntingly vivid and often surprisingly beautiful language and imagery, Slow Noodles tells an astonishing story of life—persistent, miraculous life—in a harrowing era. I’ll never forget it.”Mary Laura Philpott, author of Bomb Shelter: Love, Time, and Other Explosives
“A testament to the strength of women in times of war, a recipe book of memories, and a lesson in rebuilding after destruction, this memoir is a reminder that the world has ended many times over in different places, and that our teachers in survival walk among us every day.”Thi Bui, bestselling author of The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir
“Chantha Nguon connects to the joy of the sight, scent, taste, texture, and even sound of food, and when there is no food to eat she connects to the memory of food. In this potent narrative of unbreakable, inviolable, female power, each recipe is an act of grace, transformation, resistance, and reclamation.”Alice Randall, New York Times bestselling author and winner of the NAACP Image Award for Soul Food Love
"Not only the remarkable story of Chantha Nguon’s life, Slow Noodles is a beautiful glimpse into the hearts of women as they find each other over food.”Lisa Donovan, author of Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger.
“It is rare that a memoir and the meals it recounts truly depend on each other, each intrinsic to the other. Yet that is the case in Slow Noodles, where recipes reinforce the incredible, poignant, difficult, and often joyous tale of Chantha Nguon's survival. This book tells a story that must be heard, and offers the tastes of an extraordinary life.”Tamar Adler, author of An Everlasting Meal and The Everlasting Meal Cookbook
"Lyrical and visceral, perfumed by charcoal fires and fish paste, this call and response between narrative and cookbook shows us all how time in the kitchen can restore. Slow Noodles is food and life writing at its most profound."John T. Edge, host of TrueSouth and author of The Potlikker Papers
“Achingly beautiful. Nguon explores how food fuels love, preserves history, restores losses, heals trauma, and binds people and cultures together. This is a work of synesthesia. The flavors described in these pages become so potent that they transform into colors that can be seen, textures that can be felt, and music that can be heard. I have read many food memoirs but none have moved me, sated me, inspired and informed me like Slow Noodles.”Amanda Little, author of The Fate of Food: What We’ll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World
“[A]n evocative, haunting memoir… those who dive in will find it a remarkable and important piece of work. A moving book that mixes horror and hope, disaster and good food, creating a poignant, fascinating read.”Kirkus Reviews
- On Sale
- Feb 20, 2024
- Page Count
- 304 pages
- Algonquin Books