Fresh Off The Boat

By Eddie Huang

Book Cover: Fresh Off The BoatEddie Huang is funny and smart and has a really interesting story and perspective on life, but he’s also kind of an asshole.

He wrote his memoirs a couple years ago, which inspired a new sitcom just this season. Reading a review of the sitcom, I figured the book would be an interesting account of a first generation American’s experience. And it is. What it doesn’t really seem to be is material for a sitcom. As I got further in the book, I was more and more confused about how on earth they were going to make this family-friendly. Like, Huang’s family is all sorts of crazy, with some serious abuse problems to boot, and Huang has more than a few thug tendencies.

A lot of the story has been left out of the sitcom, naturally, but some has just been cleaned up. In one episode, the grandma teaches Eddie’s little brothers to play poker and promptly fleeces them of all their toys. It is a cute scene (my favorite part is when they appeal to their mom to get their toys back, she solemnly tells them that their grandma won them fair and square), but the reality is that Huang’s grandma had a gambling addiction that impoverished her husband and son.

Huang talks a lot about how meaningful he finds hip hop and the hip hop culture. I hadn’t ever thought about it like this, but he says that growing up in a chaotic and abusive household (his parents went far past the point of just being traditionalist; the children’s school reported the family to child protective services), the rhetoric used in hip hop about hard living on the streets gave him a frame of reference for his abuse at home. So, I found that to be a very interesting perspective, if not one that I could always understand.

Sports, basketball in particular, are also an important part of his life, and he discusses that at length, as well. Again, interesting, but not much relevance to my own experience.

What I could really relate to, though, was when he starts talking about food. He describes wanting to make a traditional American Thanksgiving (amusingly, his mother turned her nose up at most American food, but became a fan of green bean casserole), and watching a bunch of Food Network for research before settling on a combination of brining and infused herb butter under the turkey skin, which almost exactly replicates one of my first Thanksgivings on my own.

It is also through cooking that he was able to create his own identity and find a place in society that he was comfortable with, after many, many years of acting out. Similar to other memoires I’ve read by people in their 30s, relating their road to eventual success, the vast majority of the book is spent on the early struggles, with the success sort of just coming together at the end. I guess I’d prefer a somewhat later memoir that gives a little more attention to maintaining the point of success once it has been achieved.

—Anna

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