Why did I get this book?: Ever since Graham Green's The Quiet American, I've been interested in '50s Vietnam and I'm a sucker for food as character.Do I like the cover?: Yes, but -- in the novel, there's a discussion about how the pastoral art featuring Vietnamese countrysides really whitewashes what modern Vietnam is like -- so it seems like a missed opportunity by not featuring something more urban.Review: The best books are those that can take a topic or plot that is alien to you and yet make you feel yourself in the story. Initially I wasn't swooning with excitement about this book -- interested, yes, but nothing fancier than that -- and yet, by the second chapter, I was captivated. I often found myself stopping to read passages to my wife so we could both savor the lovely language or interesting insight about Vietnam. There's a prose-poem feel at times -- the contemporary sections are in present tense, the revolutionary sections in past tense -- but the writing isn't obtuse or florid or aloof. I loved all the characters and cared about each story. The novel moves back and forth between the present (2007ish, I believe) and the past (1950s and '60s) seamlessly, and like Hung's delicately flavored broths, the story reveals more and more in delicious, tasty layers.Don't let an unfamiliarity with Vietnam dissuade you from reading this book: ultimately, all you need to know is presented in the story. The conflicts and joys shared by the characters are easy to relate to and emphasize with and the historical events are given enough context to be meaningful. I found it impossible not to be sucked into this lovely, evocative, moving novel.