Linh Mai and Bảo Nguyễn haven’t spoken since they were kids, when they met in a Buddhist temple and were shortly yanked apart by their silently enraged families. Their families own neighboring phở restaurants, but that’s not the whole story. They’re not just neighbors, they are rivals, and not friendly ones. The Mais and Nguyễns are in constant competition with each other; consistently gossiping, trash-talking, and spreading atrocious rumors about each other—aside from frequently calling each other’s phở “dở ẹc” (very, very bad).
But everything changes for Linh and Bảo on the Mais’ Phở Day, when Linh’s family will offer a two-for-one deal for their phở. Linh, a passionate artist, plans to attend an art exhibition, but she has no choice but to help her parents deal with the rush of customers. At one point, she becomes extremely overwhelmed and runs outside to an alley, where she encounters Bảo, who offers to secretly help. Linh and Bảo help make Phở Day a success—all without Linh’s mother knowing, of course! As the night ends and they escape triumphantly to the alley, both realize that everything has changed for them.
Coincidentally or not, Linh and Bảo are soon assigned a project to partner on. As they spend more time together and get to know each other, sparks begin to fly, and they embark on a secret relationship, which they are forced to hide from their families, who would no doubt break them apart once more.
In only a matter of time, Linh and Bảo come to realize that their families’ feud runs deeper than a silly restaurant rivalry, and that their situation is much more complicated than either of them could have imagined.
Throughout it all, Linh struggles to communicate to her parents her dreams of pursuing a career as an artist, as they wish her to become an engineer. Bảo, meanwhile, can’t seem to find something he is passionate about and is hesitant about who he wants to be in life.
This story uses a lot of Vietnamese cultural references, which is one of my favorite aspects of the novel. The author occasionally drops some Vietnamese terms into the dialogue and narration, and the story shows a lot of typical Vietnamese-family customs, tendencies, and conversations. As a Vietnamese person who grew up in the same environment, I found A Phở Love Story hilariously relatable, so I’d definitely recommend it especially to anyone acquainted with Asian culture. This book is also great if you are interested in or curious about Asian culture.
A Phở Love Story by Loan Le is a playful, serious, beautiful, and poignant read all at the same time, and I’m not kidding when I tell you that I started crying when I got to a certain part of the book. (I laughed out loud lots of times too!) I found this story to be very realistic and reflective on parents’ expectations of their kids’ career choices and other general plans for their futures. Definitely give this novel a try! I loved it so much and would no doubt recommend it!