The Sweetest Fruits (Viking)
The Sweetest Fruits introduces readers to a trio of tenacious, brave, and inspiring women who have largely been left out of the historical record—until now. In her beautifully crafted and captivating work, Truong retells the remarkable life story of 19th century writer, wanderer, and epicurean Lafcadio Hearn through the eyes of those who cared for him and made his work possible. We begin with his mother, Rosa Cassimati: A Greek woman who willed herself out of her father’s cloistered house, married an Irish officer, and came to Ireland with her two-year-old son in 1852, only to be forced to leave without him soon after. Then, we meet Alethea Foley: An African American woman born into slavery who meets and falls in love with a young and ambitious Lafcadio in Cincinnati—only to later find herself written out of his life. And finally, Koizumi Setsu: The daughter of a former samurai, Lafcadio’s second wife, and his unsung literary collaborator. Each of these women speak their truth about the man whom they knew as Patricio, Patrick, Pat, Lafcadio, or Yakumo—the man who would circumnavigate the globe to find a home—as Truong brilliantly imagines their own quests to create lives unbounded by gender, race, or custom. What emerges is a story of recovering the lost voices of women—and especially the voices of women of color—as each section is breathlessly told in the distinct voices of Rosa, Alethea, and Setsu. Delicate, rapturous prose captures the reader, as Truong examines how the touchstones that defined Lafcadio’s life—the freedom to travel, the power to write, the ability to define high cuisine—were denied to the women in his life. But the trio we meet in The Sweetest Fruits were adventurers, scribes, and chefs in their own right. Here, Truong finally shares their voices with the world.
Truong decided to explore the life of Lafcadio Hearn in The Sweetest Fruits after discovering a surprising morsel of a biography in a copy of The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture that spoke of a childhood in Dublin, and travels to Cincinnati and New Orleans. There, he would publish the earliest collection of Creole recipes, La Cuisine Créole, which remains an invaluable document of the city’s rich culinary heritage. The entry concludes with Lafcadio making a home for himself in Japan, under the name Koizumi Yakumo, and authoring a series of Japanese folk tales. These sparse details left Truong with countless questions about the literary and culinary scholar, and she set out to discover what—and who—had been left out of his story. After years of research, what she unearthed was a man of contradictions. A man both ahead of his time—one who reveled in the heady, exuberant mixture of peoples and flavors that greeted him throughout his travels—and of his time, limited by late 19th century biases and blinders. How to tell the story of such a man? You invite the women to do the talking. The Sweetest Fruits may recount Lafcadio’s story, but he is relegated to a supporting, near silent role as Rosa, Alethea, and Setsu share the hopes that drove them forward and the fears that held them back in these imagined recollections. Rich in historical detail and bolstered by the captivating, irrepressible voices of its narrators, The Sweetest Fruits is Truong at her finest.
Praise for The Sweetest Fruits:
“[A] remarkable novel about love, the power of memory, and betrayal... Dazzling...Truong’s command of voice and historical knowledge brings the stories of these remarkable women to life.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“Extraordinary... By reclaiming these exemplary women’s voices, Truong enhances history with illuminating herstory too long overlooked.”—Booklist, Starred Review
“Truong does what she does best, painting a vivid portrait of privilege, restlessness, and tenacity through the conflicting experiences of characters grappling with their senses of love, family, and home.”—LitHub
“Globetrotting, luminous... Like [Truong’s] first novel, The Book of Salt, The Sweetest Fruits leads readers on a sweeping narrative that poses questions about belonging, existence, and storytelling.”—The Millions
“It isn’t only the fantastic Lafcadio Hearn who springs to new life in these pages. The women around him do as well, even as they mix the extraordinary and the ordinary in an exhilarating new way. The Sweetest Fruits is brilliant and heartbreaking—I was transfixed.”—Gish Jen, author of Typical American
“Monique Truong has composed a sublime, many-voiced novel of voyage and reinvention. It will cross horizons, yet remain burrowed in your heart.”—Anthony Marra, author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
“Intimate and sensuous yet majestic in scope, The Sweetest Fruits is a rapturous, glorious novel, extraordinarily alive to the world.”—Idra Novey, author of Those Who Knew
“Presented in four courses from the perspective of the women closest to him, The Sweetest Fruits is a feast you’ll want to devour for its arresting metaphors and its beautiful prose.”
—Anita Lo, author of Solo: A Modern Cookbook for One
Monique Truong is the author of three novels—The Book of Salt; Bitter in the Mouth; and now, The Sweetest Fruits, and her work has been published in fifteen countries. Her awards and honors include the PEN/Robert Bingham Fellowship, the New York Public Library Young Lions Award, the Asian American Literary Award, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Rosenthal Family Foundation Award.
Diep Tran is a chef and former owner of Good Girl Dinette in Los Angeles. She's an advocate for raising the wages of workers in the restaurant industry. Most recently, she was featured in the second season of Emmy award-winning series, "Migrant Kitchen."