Eddie Huang is the proprietor of Baohaus, a raffish Taiwanese street-food joint in the East Village. He also hosts a show on Vice TV — it too is called “Fresh Off the Boat” — in which he does things like roll with biker gangs, wriggle in Taiwan’s metal scene and ingest a vast amount of offal.
The New York Times says Fresh Off the Boat is a surprisingly sophisticated memoir about race and assimilation in America. It’s an angry book, as much James Baldwin and Jay-Z as Amy Tan. That it’s also bawdy and frequently hilarious nearly, if not entirely, seals the deal.
In this book, Huang uses profane language to tell you what his childhood was like, but when you read it, you just want to give that little boy a big hug. For example, he talked about he and his brother shared two dinosaurs. They both liked the blue dinosaur and neither of them liked to played with the orange one. But when he first went his friend Jeff’s room, he couldn’t believe his eyes. He writes:”Everywhere you walked: toys, games, huge television, stuffed animals, it was like living in a Toys’R’Us. I remember thinking to myself that if I died, I wanted to come back a white man.”
He describes how hard he tried to convince his parents that they bought him a pair of basketball sneakers. Good shoes were “like having cars on your feet,” he says. “Shoes were literally your hopes and dreams in a box.”
Huang fits in by not fitting in at all. “We lived in a world that treated us like deviants and we were outcast.” Fortunately He was born a rebel. When people hurt him, he just fought back. But the harder he fought, the sorrier I feel for him.
FRESH OFF THE BOAT
By Eddie Huang
276 pages. Spiegel & Grau. $26.