Stealing Buddha’s Dinner Summary and Study Guide

Bich Minh Nguyen

Stealing Buddha’s Dinner

  • 49-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 16 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a literary scholar with a Master's degree
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Stealing Buddha’s Dinner Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 49-page guide for “Stealing Buddha’s Dinner” by Bich Minh Nguyen includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 16 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Liminality and the Immigrant Experience and The Role of American Food in Bich’s Identity.

Plot Summary

Stealing Buddha’s Dinner is a memoir by Bich Minh Nguyen that tells the story of her childhood in Grand Rapids, Michigan as a young Vietnamese refugee. Bich’s family, made up of her father; her grandmother, Noi; her sister, Anh; and her uncles, Chu Anh, Chu Cuong, and Chu Dai; flee to the United States from Vietnam in April 1975, just as Saigon is falling to the North Vietnamese. Her mother is left behind, and the mystery of her absence is revealed to Bich over the course of her youth.

A few years after their arrival, Bich’s father marries a Mexican-American woman named Rosa, and Rosa and her daughter, Chrissy, join the family. Not long after, Rosa gives birth to Bich’s brother, Vinh. Bich’s family structure is constantly shifting, with the addition of Rosa’s entire family, foster brothers, and, later, Bich’s mother and other family members in Vietnam. Though Bich is close with her family, she often turns to books for comfort. Part of the memoir is an exploration of her love of Little Women, Little House on the Prairie, and Harriet the Spy.

Growing up, Bich is small and wears thick glasses. She doesn’t fit in easily with her classmates, and clashes with students over race, religion, and Rosa’s leftist politics. Nonetheless, she is a “natural-born nerd” and does well in school, which affords her some freedom with her teachers and leads to her friendship with a girl named Holly Jansen. Bich is also becomes friends with her next-door neighbor, Jennifer Vander Wal, and another Vietnamese girl in her class named Loan.

The memoir’s title refers to a golden statue of Buddha in their home, in front of which Noi carefully places an array of fruits that she leaves there for multiple days. This ritual is meant as a sign of respect, and to Bich makes the fruits all the more special.

Bich’s memories are tied together with the through-line of food; she is obsessed with American snacks and products and describes a wealth of Vietnamese and Mexican-American foods she eats with her family. She desperately wants to eat things like macaroni and cheese and Spaghetti-Os, as she thinks that theses commercialized foods will make her more American. The first food she mentions is a shiny red can of Pringles.

At the end of the memoir, Bich explores more tangibly the absence of her mother and her motherland when she meets her mother and later travels to Vietnam. Both trips force her to reconcile with feelings she explores throughout the book, and the book closes with her thoughts on learning to be grateful for the things she has.

Stealing Buddha’s Dinner is about an outsider’s journey towards self-understanding. Because the adults in her life do not explain things she wants to know, and she lacks both privacy and freedom, Bich relies on what she has: television, commercials, and her peers. However, she always comes back to Noi making fruit into treasures, and the special moments she shares with her family. In an attempt to fill the hole left by what she calls “missingness,” Bich finds herself.

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