Fresh Off the Boat is a memoir from Eddie Huang, the owner of the popular NYC restaurant Baohaus. The book is divided into 2 sections. The first takes up eleven chapters and covers Eddie’s childhood and school memories, and the second section spends the last six chapters from mid-college to the opening of Bauhaus. The book begins when Eddie is about seven years old and introduces a variety of family members as a group. Family plays a large part of the book, as does the dysfunction that Eddie sees. The second emphasis is on Eddie’s experiences with school and his peers. This element becomes more important as the book moves along and questions of race and identity become more central. As Eddie struggles with these issues, he encounters or gets into all kinds of trouble, some more serious than not.
This book may not be for everybody. The tone of much of the book is anger which gets off-putting for the first half of the book, until Eddie finally realizes that instead of feeling bad and victimized, he should try to do something about the cultural and identity problems he has struggled with. The problem I have with the angry sections is not so much the complaints about American culture and society themselves (which are not unfounded), but the ease with which violence and drugs are presented as acceptable responses to these issues. The openly stated kinship with Anthony Bourdain is apt in this sense; both writers are angry, and unapologetic for their perspectives.
The second section of the book, when Eddie discusses some of the people and events that had a positive impact on him is also the point where I really started to like the book. This is where the author decides to take ownership of his own life and identity (although it takes him a while to work that out), and where Eddie starts to explain the details of how and why education, literature, and food are so important to identity and culture.
One thing about the book that I never did get used to was how the street slang and hip-hop references kept getting more frequent. For someone unfamiliar with the genre, it makes the book increasingly difficult to understand (though not impossible). To his credit, the author does include footnote commentary to give hints and make other comments. The note in which he very grudgingly thanks Guy Fieri is a bit graphic for my taste but it serves its intended purpose well (to both thank and insult Guy at the same time). I’m pretty sure that a lot of the ideas and comments in the footnotes are things that the author may either not want to spend time on or (as I suspect may be the case in the Guy Fireri comment) feels necessary to state but does not really want it noticed.