Thursday, July 02, 2009
This acclaimed novel reveals the life of a Vietnamese family in America through the knowing eyes of a child finding her place and voice in a new country.
In 1978 six refugees — a girl, her father, and four "uncles" — are pulled from the sea to begin a new life in San Diego. In the child's imagination, the world is transmuted into an unearthly realm: she sees everything intensely, hears the distress calls of inanimate objects, and waits for her mother to join her. But life loses none of its strangeness when the family is reunited. As the girl grows, her matter-of-fact innocence eddies increasingly around opaque and ghostly traumas: the cataclysm that engulfed her homeland, the memory of a brother who drowned and, most inescapable, her father's hopeless rage.
This is a very short novel that bears some similarities to the author’s life (a drowned sibling, immigration to the US). There are parts of the novel that I liked (mostly the beginning when the young narrator and her father, Ba, and “uncles” struggle to find their way, and the time after her mother arrives). However, the uncles soon disappear from the story and it starts skipping around in time. Ba succumbs to mysterious rages that are difficult to understand. Sure we get glimpses into his mysterious past and the death of his son, but I kept waiting for the shoe to drop and it never did. Aagh! Additionally, what was the meaning of Ba’s increasing anxiety? What was its purpose?? In the end, for me, the language and emotions just weren’t enough to carry this book and it’s underdeveloped story. I’m too literal for books like this.