August 13, 2011 at 5:08 pm , by Lauren Piro
I spoke with Monique Truong about her childhood experiences in the south, the themes of friendship, family and secret keeping in Bitter in the Mouth (the inaugural LHJ Book Club pick!), and how she ended up weaving an intricate story around a girl who tastes words.
The novel’s protagonist, Linda Hammerick, feels like an outsider in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, a town you lived in as a child. How much of your own life mirrors Linda’s? Is the story autobiographical?
I sometimes joke that if life gives you a little town called Boiling Springs and you’re a writer, you’d be foolish not to write about it. There was a lot in my own experience that I thought was important for me to revisit as an adult, as a writer.
When my family came to Boiling Springs, it was the summer of 1975. I remember clearly going to school for the first time and realizing that something had happened—that my body had somehow transformed. I was born in Saigon and was growing up in Vietnam as a little girl, but the moment that I stepped into the elementary school in Boiling Springs, I was no longer just a little girl. All of a sudden there was a lot of interest in the color of my skin, the shape of my eyes, and the color of my hair. I felt like there was this disconnect between how I felt inside and the way I was being treated based on how people were seeing me.
So in creating Linda, I was trying to draw on the confusion that I had and tried to imagine a situation in which a character would feel disconnected from her own body and not understand what was going on—though not in exactly the same way as it happened to me.
I don’t have synesthesia and I don’t have the same sort of family background as Linda, though.