2010 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature (Adult Fiction Honor)
2011 Rosenthal Family Foundation Award (American Academy of Arts and Letters)
From Monique Truong, the bestselling and award-winning author of The Book of Salt, comes a brilliant, mesmerizing, beautifully written novel about a young woman’s search for identity and family, as she uncovers the secrets of her past and of history.
Growing up in the small town of Boiling Springs, North Carolina, in the 70’s and 80’s, Linda believes that she is profoundly different from everyone else, including the members of her own family. “What I know about you, little girl, would break you in two” are the cruel, mysterious last words that Linda’s grandmother ever says to her.
Now in her thirties, Linda looks back at her past when she navigated her way through life with the help of her great-uncle Harper, who loves her and loves to dance, and her best friend Kelly, with whom Linda exchanges almost daily letters. The truth about my family was that we disappointed one another. When I heard the word “disappoint,” I tasted toast, slightly burnt.
For as long as she can remember, Linda has experienced a secret sense—she can “taste” words, which have the power to disrupt, dismay, or delight. She falls for names and what they evoke: Canned peaches. Dill. Orange sherbet. Parsnip (to her great regret). But with crushes comes awareness. As with all bodies, Linda’s is a mystery to her, in this and in other ways. Even as Linda makes her way north to Yale and New York City, she still does not know the truth about her past.
Then, when a personal tragedy compels Linda to return to Boiling Springs, she gets to know a mother she never knew and uncovers a startling story of a life, a family. Revelation is when God tells us the truth. Confession is when we tell it to him.
This astonishing novel questions many assumptions—about what it means to be a family and to be a friend, to be foreign and to be familiar, to be connected and to be disconnected—from others and from the past, our bodies, our histories, and ourselves.
"Monique Truong's eloquent coming-of-age story, Bitter in the Mouth, sensitively investigates the strains and mysteries of families, small town Southern life, and the search for identity and friendship in an increasingly fractured world." –American Academy of Arts and Letters
“Appealing to several senses and intellectually challenging, Bitter in the Mouth will remind teachers and students alike why we study literature in the first place. One student in my Living Writers section told me, at the end of class last week that ""I really liked it. There's so much to think about." —James D. Bloom, Professor of English & American Studies, Muhlenberg College
“A deeply compassionate and artfully crafted novel.”
—O, The Oprah Magazine
“In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard advises would-be writers to find their bone, the thing that drives them to write….Monique Truong’s bone is the outsider’s plight, and her pen is a scalpel, laying perfect words down along that nerve until even the happiest reader understands what it means to forever stand apart from your family and the larger society you inhabit.”
--Los Angeles Times
“Fast-moving and beautifully strange….[Linda’s] tasting words…quickly becomes second nature and eventually, metaphorical poetry. It has a poignancy that sneaks up on you, just like Truong’s entire clever tale.”
--Time Out New York
“A flavorful, haunting journey….Truong is a powerful writer.”
“Truong’s mesmerizing prose beautifully captures [the heroine’s] taste-saturated world, and her portrait of a broken family’s secretive pockets and genuine moments of connection is affecting.”
—Publishers Weekly (“Pick of the Week”, starred review)
“Absorbing . . . Truong is a gifted storyteller, and in this quietly powerful novel she has created a compelling and unique character.”
—Booklist (starred review)
"Monique Truong’s Bitter in the Mouth, every word a taste, is a revelation of wit and heart and stunning talent. Truong invents Americana for a new America: from Great Uncle Harper to Dr Pepper and the Wright Brothers, she shades her classic coming of age tale with a magical ferocity that recalls Doctorow and Nabokov. Bitter in the Mouth is a soulful hymn to the hands we fashion with the cards we’re dealt."
—Jayne Anne Phillips
"Be prepared for a full range of tastes of life in Bitter in the Mouth: friendship, loyalty, love, family, and above all, the mysteries at every corner of one’s history that make us who we are. Monique Truong is a great observer and a beautiful writer."
"Monique Truong creates a world so subtle, mysterious, moving and sensory that it heightens our consciousness of those qualities in our own. Bitter in the Mouth is the rare novel that makes one life story unique and universal at the same time."
Monique Truong was born in Saigon and currently lives in New York City. Her first novel, The Book of Salt, was a New York Times Notable Book. It won the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award, the 2003 Bard Fiction Prize, the Stonewall Book Award-Barbara Gittings Literature Award, and the 7th Annual Asian American Literary Award, and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award and Britain’s Guardian First Book Award. She is the recipient of the PEN American Robert Bingham Fellowship, and was awarded the Hodder Fellowship at Princeton for 2007-2008.