Wednesday, January 07, 2009

A Delicious Memoir by Kim Sunee

You know a book is really well written when you find yourself licking the pages. That's how tasty Kim Sunee's memoir, Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love and the Search for Home really is.

Sunee was abandoned at age three by her mother in a market in South Korea. She was then adopted by a young, White American couple who also adopted another Korean child, a younger sister for Kim. Sunee's parents brought Kim and baby Suzy home to New Orleans where she bonded almost instantly with her maternal grandparents. And it was her grandfather who introduced her to the thrill of cooking and feeding family around the table.

Despite what seems like everyone's best intentions, Sunee never felt rooted to her family and seems permanently predisposed to take flight. She leaves home at 17 for college in Florida, and makes it a point to stay away as long as possible. The book really begins with Sunee at age 23 living in the south of France with her decidedly older, wealthier and still married boyfriend, or rather, manfriend, Olivier. She also becomes the de facto stepmother to his young daughter. Sunee spends her days and nights, basically a kept woman, who proves her worth by cooking elaborate meals for Olivier's eclectic assortment of friends and family.

Interspersed between the tumultuous love affair between Sunee and Olivier are mouthwatering recipes Sunee has collected throughout her life. We get "Quick-Fix Kimchi," "Crawfish Stuffing," and "Figs Roasted in Red Wine with Cream and Honey," just to name a few.

Now, even though there is a chapter devoted to Sunee's return to Korea and an underlying theme to the entire narrative is Sunee's need to define herself, this is not an adoption memoir as much as it is a coming of age tale of a young woman with her own personal demons to exorcise. If you want to read a book about racial identity and dealing with the effects of adoption, transracial or otherwise, this is not the book to read. Sunee barely touches on her Asian identity and what it means to her or how she feels as an Asian woman in France and other places she travels. I wish she had but I respect her right not to include that in this version of her story. And she hints at the problems she has/had with her adoptive family but never digs deep. Perhaps she needed to protect that part of her life.

The story that Sunee chose to tell is probably one more people can relate to actually, especially women. Sunee writes basically about how she allowed herself to be defined by a man and the struggle that ensued to free herself. I read the book and felt like I was caught up in a French-themed soap opera, with dramatic characters, a beautiful setting and those sumptuous recipes for added spice.

Sunee is a poet and it shows in her sensuous descriptions of everything from the sun-ripened peaches she plucks from the trees on Olivier's estate to the smell of her grandmother's refrigerator back home. Sometimes I had to remind myself that I was reading a true story because some of it seemed almost too over the top to be real. Not in a James Frey kind of way, but more like when Olivier decides Sunee should work in a poetry shop so she won't feel bored, so he buys her her own poetry shop in the heart of Paris! Nice, right?

I really enjoyed this book and recommend it for anyone who loves memoir and is looking for a well-told story that blends travel, language, food and love into one delicious dish.


(p.s. Please note there is an accent mark on the first "e" in Kim's last name, but I can't figure out how to put it on there. A thousand apologies.)


riffraff814 said...

é or è -- you type é or è (and, I'll probably delete this if it all gets escaped by the blogger filters)

forever spring said...

Delicious book review...and I was looking for new books to read in 2009. Thanks, Lori.

LT said...

Thanks Riffraff.

And Thanks Spring. Seriously, you'll love the book just for the recipes. After I finished the book, I just re-read all of the recipes marking which ones I wanted to try first! I'm thinking the chocolate cake with chestnut cream sounds like a winner!

Carleen Brice said...

Sounds delish!

Anonymous said...

Just finished Kim Sunee's book last night and stayed up till 2 am to do so. I'm an American married to a Frenchman, so I read it for the slice of Provencal life. Some of her emotional struggles were universal - identifying her needs separately from her lover, and her youthful search for self. (Isn't that what the 20's are about?) But the undercurrent of her mother's abandonment of her at the age of 3 constantly threatened to drown her burgeoning sense of self, influencing her in ways she was perhaps too young to understand. I look forward to seeing how much more this writer understands about herself at, say, 50. All in all, though, a really good read.