Taking Wing

T.C. Huo's first novel, A Thousand Wings (Dutton $23.95), is the story of Fong Mun, a Laotian refugee who works as a successful cookbook author and caterer in San Francisco. When he meets Raymond, a young Asian immigrant with no memory of his past, a powerful attraction develops between the two men. Fong Mun expresses his affection the only way he knows how -- by cooking for his would-be lover.

As Fong Mun cooks, he tells Raymond the story of his life -- the birds that stopped singing after the Communist invasion, the school that became little more than a Marxist training camp, trying to pass as a Thai citizen in Bangkok. His closely guarded family recipes are Fong Mun's link to his past; his privileged childhood in Laos, exile in Bangkok, the rigors of a refugee camp in Thailand before his eventual escape to America. Cooking is his way of remembering and honoring his mother, whom he lost while fleeing Laos, and especially Ahma, his grandmother, who died in the refugee camp. It is Ahma's voice he hears as he prepares her crispy egg rolls -- his most prized and secret recipe -- for Raymond.

Huo is especially adept at evoking the chaos of Southeast Asia in the mid-'70s -- a place that's doubly dangerous for Fong Mun, a refugee and a homosexual. The writer's prose is both powerful and delicate as Fong Mun's story shifts gracefully between past and present, memory and reality. Like the dishes it describes so well, A Thousand Wings is sensual, subtle, and thoroughly memorable.

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