cover image Slow Noodles: A Cambodian Memoir of Love, Loss, and Family Recipes

Slow Noodles: A Cambodian Memoir of Love, Loss, and Family Recipes

Chantha Nguon, with Kim Green. Algonquin, $29 (304p) ISBN 978-1-64375-349-2

In this engrossing and evocative debut memoir, Nguon recounts how her mother’s recipes sustained her family through poverty and genocidal violence. Raised in a middle-class, half Vietnamese family in Battambang, Cambodia, in the 1960s, Nguon learned to cook Khmer food by shadowing her mother, whom she affectionately called “Mae.” In 1970, as the Vietnam War spilled over Cambodia’s borders and communist revolutionary Pol Pot began his rise to power, Nguon and her siblings fled to Saigon, leaving their mother and oldest brother behind to “sort out the family’s affairs.” Five years later, after the death of her mother and most of her siblings, Nguon escaped Saigon with her boyfriend, Chan, and bounced around various refugee camps in Thailand, where she worked as bartender, brothel cook, medical assistant, and silkweaver. Eventually, Nguon returned to Cambodia to open the Stung Treng Women’s Development Center, where she continues to provide food and education to Khmer women. Throughout, Nguon interweaves the hardships she endured with her favorite recipes and the memories attached to them, offering readers evocative glimpses of the bursts of light that sustained her through long stretches of harrowing darkness. This haunting yet hopeful account will appeal to foodies and history buffs alike. Agent: Joy Tutela, David Black Literary. (Feb.)