Sunday, October 11, 2009

Trail of Crumbs by Kim Sunee

I have a strange attraction towards memoirs. I think they at once draw me away from my own life and give me many reasons to somehow compare my life to the person a memoir is about. When it came my turn to pick the next read for my book club, I knew right away it would be a memoir. Trail of Crumbs by Kim Sunee was the one democratically chosen. I was both glad I read it since it had been on my reading list for a long time and slightly disappointed with it.
Trail of Crumbs is a story of Kim’s life from the day she was abandoned by her Korean mother and adopted by American parents at the age of three until the time when she is in her late twenties going back to New Orleans, the town she grew up with, after ten years of living in Europe. It is also a food memoir as hunger and the need to make wonderful food are two of the main forces in Kim’s life (she finishes chapters in the book with one or more recipes of very elaborate and sometimes complicated recipes). The whole memoir is mainly focused on Kim’s life when she enters the world of adulthood and decides to study and live in Europe. She takes us through the cities of Paris, Stockholm and then back to France as she grows more and more apart from her adopted family, especially her mother left in America. Kim finally lands in a place she thinks might be her true home. She moves in with Olivier, a wealthy founder of L’Occitane and tries to take on a role of the mistress of his beautiful house in Provence and a step-mother of Olivier’s eight-year-old daughter, Laure. But even having what most people can only dream of, Kim is still unhappy and still searching for the ‘real’ idea of home she claims she never really did get to grasp.
I’ll get right to the bottom of it all and put on the record I did not like Trail of Crumbs. It’s difficult to explain why because it is a memoir and it does deal with real people not some fictitious characters. I hate getting personal in my critique but Ms. Sunee is the main reason I didn’t like the book. Granted, she certainly has a talent for writing. It’s obvious from the first pages to the last. There really isn’t much, if anything that I could frown upon in terms of quality of the book. In that respect, Trail of Crumbs reads like a breeze.
However, if I was supposed to feel sorry for Kim I am confused because I didn’t. I did sympathize with her and did feel a lot of her pain initially when reading about how she was left by her mother on the sidewalk with only a piece of bread in her hands. The scared, three-year-old Kim spent three days on that sidewalk waiting for her mom to return. It did break my heart a little, I admit. But then, the whole book turns into a sort of bashing of Kim’s adopted parents, especially her mom, and Kim’s wallowing in how unhappy she is, how she can’t find her true self and how her life is pretty much worthless. Forget about having an opportunity to live and study and then work in not one but two beautiful countries in Europe. Forget that she used this opportunity when she was barely twenty (when most of us peons are stuck doing menial and boring jobs just to get us through college with as little debt as possible). And finally, don’t even pay attention to the fact that at the age of twenty one she captures the heart of a very wealthy man who gives Kim anything she wants, and I mean anything (he even buys her a bookstore just for poetry books, which brings nothing but financial loss)and truly loves her. I guess I did start to dislike Kim because of how selfish she turned out to be and how she would stamp on other people’s lives just because she couldn’t figure hers out. I hope that nowadays Ms. Sunee is able to look at how egocentric she really was in those days of what could have been pure happiness had she made an effort.
As far as food goes, the recipes were truly yummy and I would gladly eat the dishes if someone else prepared them for me. I am guilty of hating cooking. You have no idea how many times I have been told by others to start cooking because it had therapeutic qualities. Well, it doesn’t for me. And as delicious as all the dishes talked about in Trail of Crumbs must be, I am still not convinced or encouraged to try any of them.