Saturday, January 16, 2016

Fresh Off The Boat by Eddie Huang

  • Release Date: January 29, 2013
  • Audiobook Hours: 7 hours and 55 minutes
  • Genre: Memoir
  • Publisher: Speigel & Grau (Random House)

I really wanted to start this review by saying something like 'move over Anthony Bourdain, there’s a new bad boy chef on the market, but that doesn’t really fit what Huang is trying to do with this book. While Huang’s claim to fame is his restaurant, Baohaus, this book isn’t really a food memoir. It’s about Huang’s fraught relationship with his Asian identity while growing up around what he calls American Whiteness.

As he recounts growing up in suburban Orlando Huang dismantles the idea of the model minority. Fear of assimilation is a point of tension for him. There is a long history of America being the worst to Asian immigrants and then erasing them from history. His story is a story we don’t hear and I think Huang put together a biting and honest memoir that was also entertaining.

Most people are probably familiar with the ABC show based on this book and while I enjoy the show I knew Huang publicly expressed a lot of dislike for it and after reading his memoir I get it. ABC bowdlerized the crap out of his story, but kept his family’s names are all over it. I think when Huang sold the rights for a show he wanted something like Aziz Ansaris’s show Master of None where they tackle issues of racism with more dark humor and edge that doesn’t care about offending the audience.

There is so much going on in this book to talk about, but the parts I liked the most were his different hustles to make money in New York City, the way college literature changed his life and of course the way he talks about food and cooking. Huang isn’t a trained chef (in fact he went to law school) but he has a deep understanding of how culture informs food. I also like how he isn't afraid to be honest and throw shade at people like Momofuku's David Chang

I did part of this on audio, which is read by Huang, and he did a great job. Huang is really into rap music and street culture so this book has a large amount of slang and coded language and it sounds so naturalistic coming from Haung’s mouth. I don’t know if this was part of the production or if it was natural, but he will laugh while reading something like he is recalling the memory in that moment. I’ve started a lot memoirs read by the author and this one was the most engaging.

The only thing I think got  unexamined is how his race may also benefit him. Huang writes a lot about selling drugs and all the things he’d do to intimidate people and I don’t think he talks about how he probably got away with most of it because he was member of a 'model minority' and not seen as a threat.

Fresh Off The Boat is a fun, edgy and insightful memoir and I’ve been thinking about it for days.

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