“As the weeklong Taungbyon Festival draws near, thousands of villagers from all regions of Burma descend upon a tiny hamlet near Mandalay to pay respect to the spirits, known as nats, which are central to Burmese tradition. At the heart of these festivities is Daisy Bond, a gay, transvestite spiritual medium in his fifties. With his sharp tongue and vivid performances, he has long been revered as one of the festival’s most illustrious natkadaws. At his side is Min Min, his young assistant and lover, who endures unyielding taunts and abuse from his fiery boss. But when a young beggar girl named Pan Nyo threatens to steal Min Min’s heart, the outrageous Daisy finds himself face-to-face with his worst fears.”
I bought this book several years ago when I was trying to read books set in as many countries as possible. I had never seen any other books written by a Burmese author. I never got around to reading it though. I finally decided to get to it during the #diverseathon readathon. I’m glad I did.
I didn’t know anything about nats or the Taungbyon festival to honor these spirits in Myanmar. Worshippers, mostly women, come to the festival to promise the nats favors and offerings if they help their family in the coming year. The book opens with beautiful descriptions of some of the people coming to the festival – a pickpocket lamenting the poor pickings this year, a poor woman, and a rich woman. Once the stage is set, the story moves to Daisy Bond and Min Min.
Daisy is a natkadaw or spirit medium. He pretends to be possessed by a spirit to bestow blessings in exchange for cash. The women around him will hear about it if they don’t offer him enough cash too. Min Min is his “husband.” He acts as a manager for both Daisy’s career and house as well as being his lover. Daisy is very insecure about his relationship with Min Min. Daisy is in his 50s and Min Min is a teenager. Min Min also isn’t gay. Daisy bought him from his mother to serve this role in Daisy’s life. He knows Min Min isn’t happy and is afraid that he is planning on leaving. His paranoia is serving to push Min Min farther and farther away until he does make plans to get away from Daisy.
Here’s a video that shows what the festival looks like now.
This book is beautifully written and draws you into the festival that you’ve probably never heard of.
“Ian Purkayastha is New York City’s leading truffle importer and boasts a devoted clientele of top chefs nationwide, including Jean-Georges Vongerichten, David Chang, Sean Brock, and David Bouley. But before he was purveying the world’s most expensive fungus to the country’s most esteemed chefs, Ian was just a food-obsessed teenager in rural Arkansas–a misfit with a peculiar fascination for rare and exotic ingredients. The son of an Indian immigrant father and a Texan mother, Ian learned to forage for wild mushrooms from an uncle in the Ozark hills. Thus began a single-track fixation that led him to learn about the prized but elusive truffle, the king of all fungi. His first taste of truffle at age 15 sparked his improbable yet remarkable adventure through the strange–and often corrupt–business of the exotic food trade.”
This book starts with the admission that it is weird for a 23 year old to be writing a memoir. It’s good to get that out there early because it is a bit presumptious but you’d be forgiven for forgetting that he’s only 23 while reading this.
While still in high school, Ian Purkayastha started an exotic foods club to make meals with strange ingredients for people in his Arkansas school and raise money for charity. He used his vacation time to travel to trade shows and meet up with people in the exotic food community. He set up his own business importing truffles from Italy for chefs in his area. This led to a job after high school graduation importing truffles in New York. This is where he started to see the problems in the industry. As he spends the next few years starting his own business, he travels around the world sourcing ingredients and meeting the people who hunt for mushrooms in the United States, Europe, and Asia.
Did you know:
A lot of “Italian” truffles come from eastern Europe
Truffle oil usually doesn’t have truffles in it
U.S. chefs prize the appearance of truffles so much that the vast majority of harvested truffles aren’t sent to the U.S. market because they aren’t the “correct” shape
There are attempts being made to raise truffles in specially planted orchards but it will take decades to see if it works
This book tries to dispel some of the snobbery around high end foods. It shows the work involved in finding and harvesting. It also points out how markets are kept artificially tight and how some countries become known as the best source of ingredients for reasons that may not be true.
This ARC of Truffle Boy is one of the prizes up for grabs this month for people who link up with Foodies Read. If you like reading books featuring food, link up your reviews with us!