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Reflection on The Book of Salt

The Unknown's picture

           One of The Book of Salt’s major strengths is precisely Binh’s keen and astute consciousness of and keen observations of language and how its manipulation communicates, constructs, and distorts the “truth” of the stories we divulge or the way we choose to remember and make sense of the past.                                                                                                                

           Truong's novel is extremely lyrical.  The novel revels in the idea of language and translation: Binh frequently remarks on the fact that his own native language is essentially incomprehensible and unpronounceable to the French colonialists who govern Vietnam, and yet, despite his increasing facility with French, he is permanently identified as culturally and linguistically inferior.                                                      
           Truong employs the motif of linguistic nuance--the idea that context and significance can be lost in a literal translation of one's words--to good effect.  Truong uses lovely, poetically spare philosophical musings, which demonstrate his self-consciousness in the pros.

           Truong caresses each image and each shifting sensation, forming whole scenes around a taste, color, or touch. Binh himself writes in Vietnamese, speaks a little French and less English, but comments on the meaning of words as they play against each other in the three languages.

           Binh is isolated by his limited French, and his most frequent utterance is "Oh," a perfect expression of his in-between state: The word contains a note of agreement but not complete capitulation. Because Binh lacks a strong grasp of French, he also lacks access, a colonialist theme that is sounded throughout the novel.