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The exotic odors of Vietnam and Paris—durian fruit, the occasional whiff of dog doo—cling to Monique Truong’s pungent, chewy, and sometimes stringy first novel, The Book of Salt. Truong’s book is a riff on a detail from The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook: During the ’30s, Toklas and her lover, Gertrude Stein, maintained an “Indochinese” cook at their Parisian household. In prose that wavers between overmasticated cliché and elegant, stiff-peaked metaphor, Truong serves up the life of Binh, a gay man who has left Vietnam after a quarrel with his abusive father and an affair with a French chef. In Paris, Binh cooks outrageous confections for “pussy” and “lovey” between dreamy recollections of hot trysts with Paul Robeson and Ho Chi Minh. Many of the exchanges between Stein and Toklas feel as if they were written by a scrupulous, worshipful reader—perhaps Truong would have done well to infuse some of the zany wit Peter Sellers displayed in I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! Occasionally, though, Truong takes on truly juicy subjects, imagining, for example, what Stein and Toklas’ sex life was like. And the reader who doesn’t mind swallowing the frequently empty lyricism of Binh’s first-person narrative will come upon some delightfully catty tidbits, such as the story of a Frenchman dismissed as the head chef in one of the best hotels in Saigon “because he was serving dishes obscured by lemongrass and straw mushrooms. He also slipped pieces of rambutan and jackfruit into the sorbets.” Taste for yourself when Truong reads at 1 p.m. Wednesday, June 16, at Chapters 445 11th St. NW. Free. (202) 737-5553. (Bidisha Banerjee)