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One Book, One County - 2010

Stealing Buddha's Dinner

This year's selection for our community reading program is Stealing Buddha's Dinner, a memoir that chronicles Bich Minh Nguyen's migration from Vietnam in 1975 and her coming of age in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the 1980s. Along the way, she struggles to construct her own cultural identity from a menagerie of uniquely American influences.

We look forward to an engaging series of events and discussions. This page is based largely on the Great Michigan Read's reader's guide for Stealing Buddha's Dinner. You may download the full, printable version.

A Video Introduction from the Author

The Book

Image: Stealing Buddha's Dinner Cover

It’s April 29, 1975, in Saigon. North Vietnamese forces have effectively surrounded the city. The United States, having formally ended its military campaign two years earlier, is evacuating its remaining military and civilian personnel. Thousands, fearing North Vietnamese rule, have taken flight.

By April 30, Saigon was formally renamed Ho Chi Minh City and the United States embassy was abandoned. The unification of North and South Vietnam under communist rule was well under way, and refugees were even more desperate to avoid the new regime. Most plotted their escape via road or by sea. Thousands flooded the city's ports, mobbing docks and crowding the decks of all navigable vessels. For every person who fought their way onto a ship, many more were left behind.

Bich Minh Nguyen was not left behind. Just eight months old, she and her family—everyone except her mother—miraculously made it onto a departing ship. After stops at refugee camps in the Philippines, Guam, and Arkansas, they started a new life in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

In her memoir Stealing Buddha's Dinner, Bich Minh Nguyen chronicles this new life as she navigates competing and conflicting cultural identities and struggles to fit into a community where she often feels like an outsider. Bich forgoes any rigidly defined identity and instead creates her own.

Despite this, there is still an essential influence that's unaccounted for: her mother. As the book reaches its startling conclusion, Bich discovers her mother's true story. In doing so, she discovers a missing piece of her own.

Studded with pop culture references and narrated with a youthful, honest, and accessible voice, Stealing Buddha's Dinner inspires readers to investigate their cultural influences, explore their family roots, and discover how contemporary events have affected their lives.

The Author

Image: Bich Minh Nguyen

Bich Minh Nguyen

Bich Minh Nguyen (pronounced "bit min win") was born in Saigon in 1974. When North Vietnamese forces took over the city in 1975, she and her family fled Vietnam as refugees and eventually resettled in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They were part of the first significant wave of Vietnamese immigration to the United States.

Bich spent her childhood in Grand Rapids and attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in English in 1996 and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing in 1998.

Currently, she is an associate professor in the English department at Purdue University. Her first book, Stealing Buddha's Dinner, won the PEN/Jerard Fund Award and received critical acclaim for its honest, convincing portrait of a young woman's coming of age in a community whose dominant culture, appearance, and lifestyle had little resemblance to her own.

Her forthcoming novel, Short Girls, will be released July 2009. Her writings have appeared in Gourmet, The Chicago Tribune, Dream Me Home Safely: Writers on Growing Up in America, and Watermark: Vietnamese American Poetry and Prose. She has co-edited three anthologies.

Bich is married to novelist Porter Shreve and resides in Chicago and West Lafayette, Indiana.

Where Can I Get Stealing Buddha's Dinner?

Library Events

We'll be having book discussions at all branches, you're welcome to attend any and all of them.

  • Tuesday, March 9 @ 5:00pm - Algansee Branch Library
  • Tuesday, March 9 @ 6:00pm - Sherwood Branch Library
  • Wednesday, March 10 @ 5:00pm - Coldwater Branch Library
  • Thursday, March 11 @ 6:00pm - Bronson Branch Library
  • Saturday, March 13 @ 10:00am - Quincy Branch Library
  • During February and March, you'll be able to participate in an online discussion of the book on our web site.
  • Image: Tibbits
  • And make sure to join us for our finale at the Tibbits Opera House on Monday, March 15 @ 1:00pm. The author, Bich Minh Nguyen, will be joining us for a book discussion and book signing!

Learn More