Food and Crime Fiction: Two Complementary Approaches to the Vietnamese Past in Tran-Nhut's Les travers du docteur Porc

Tess Do


Abstract

With a series of detective novels set in 17th century Dai-Viet that showcase the traditions, beliefs and customs of an exotic culture, in which the food and food habits of the Vietnamese people play a prominent role, Thanh-Van Tran-Nhut, an engineer-turned-novelist of Vietnamese origins, has carved a niche for herself in the popular crime fiction market in France. This paper focuses on the novel Les Travers du Docteur Porc, in which Doctor Porc, forensic investigator and gourmand extraordinaire, adopts the mantle of chief detective from Tran-Nhut’s usual protagonist, the loyal mandarin Tan. In this movement, we argue, the author has shaped two different but complementary approaches to her birth-country’s turbulent past that coalesce in the gargantuan figure of the (politically unencumbered) doctor and connoisseur of Vietnamese cuisine. Whereas the process of ‘solving the crime’ can be read as an attempt to seek answers and restore order in the wake of senseless bloodshed, it is food, we contend, that emerges, not only as a source of pleasure, succour and stability, but as a cultural heritage that war and upheaval failed to destroy.

Keywords

Food Culture; Taste; Exoticism; Memory; Indochina; Crime

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