Wed May 28, 2008
Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home
This honest and clearly written memoir does begin in misery. In 1973, Kim Sun?e, at the age of three, is abandoned by her mother on a bench in a South Korean marketplace with "a tiny fistful of food" which was reduced to the crumbs of the title.
By Don Noble
Trail of Crumbs is a memoir, but it is certainly different from most I read. The typical memoir, especially the Southern female variety, involves being abused or neglected as a child, often having an alcoholic parent or two, and descending into rehab of some kind, finishing up in the survivor mode.
This honest and clearly written memoir does begin in misery. In 1973, Kim Sun?e, at the age of three, is abandoned by her mother on a bench in a South Korean marketplace with "a tiny fistful of food" which was reduced to the crumbs of the title. She sat on the bench for three days before an alert policeman noticed her. She was taken back to the station, and then to an orphanage. Soon, she was adopted by an American couple who took her to New Orleans, her mother's home town.
This looks like, and is in fact, a miracle of good luck. But it's not that simple. Although her grandfather, Poppy, is warm and loving, Kim finds her parents distant and cool. They try, but her mother has trouble expressing affection and her father is given to fits of anger. Many of the New Orleans children call her gook or Suzy Wong, moonface, pignose, or Chink.
Kim Sun?e retreats into the world of books and beauty, gets into the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts and then goes away to college in Florida, which is only slightly better. She takes her junior year in France and transfers to the University at Nice.
Kim Sun?e will spend the next ten years in Europe.
After graduation from Nice, she moves to Stockholm and, after only a few months, commences an affair with Olivier Baussan, the multimillionaire founder of L'Occitane, the French perfume and soap company. Baussan is separated, soon-to-be-divorced.
Their affair is, on the surface at least, a dream. He makes her the mistress of his Edenic estate in Provence, they buy a flat in Paris, he showers her with every kind of gift, she accompanies him on travels to Corsica, Italy, North Africa, one might say everywhere. This sometimes makes it difficult to feel sympathy for Sun?e's problems.
Olivier really loves her, and he gives her everything, so to speak, but nothing will avail. She remarks, "He'll never realize that the everything he wants to give me will never take away the nothing that I've always had." The sad truth here is that Kim Sun?e suffers from such a lack of self-esteem that nothing will make her happy. She also is understandably testy about the slowness of his divorce proceedings and becomes irritable about his major flaw, a need to organize, dominate, and control everything. She is about 23; he is 38 and has an 8-year-old daughter. Cinderella lives in the castle with the prince, but she is unhappy and their relationship is doomed.
Her needs are greater than can be met, as she eventually discovers in psychotherapy in Paris. The age difference, which might not have made so much difference later in life, is too great for her at 23. Kim Sun?e is multilingual, beautiful, outwardly sophisticated, but not up to the situation she finds herself in.
She has one particular skill, however, at which she excels without question. Her Poppy taught her to cook Cajun style, and she also mastered much of the French repertoire of the kitchen. Sun?e delights in cooking?"I might actually be good at something"?and the book is larded with recipes, both Cajun and French. Be warned, however, that the needed truffles, morels, saffron, cr?me fraiche, mascarpone, fresh chestnuts, and lemon verbena may not all be available at your local Piggly Wiggly.
Kim Sun?e now, after ten years in paradise, lives in Birmingham, works as food editor at Cottage Living magazine, and seems to have a slightly less glamorous but probably much happier future ahead of her.
Don Noble's book reviews can be heard each Monday on Alabama Public Radio at 7:35 a.m. and 4:44 p.m. Recently retired as English professor at The University of Alabama, Don's specialties are Southern and American literature. Don also hosts Bookmark on Alabama Public Television.