Each story is in some way a revealing snippet of the new lives they have made for themselves and the struggles they have faced along the way, whether as devastating as the deaths of family members in the American War, or as personal as discovering one’s sexuality.
It shouldn’t be a measure of a short story’s worth, but we wished each one of these had been spun out into a full-length novel. The characters are swiftly drawn but complex, the sketches of their lives at once bold but nuanced. These are stories of relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, people and countries.
The son of refugees doesn’t respond when his mother tells him of people in her village dying of famine, as he’s focused on earning money for a comic book:
“It was the kind of story she told all the time, and in any case, I was too distracted to ask questions. She was paying me for every strand I found and I was intent on my search, each gray hair bringing me one nickel closer to the next issue of Captain America.”
There’s Louis, a counterfeit items peddler tracked down by a man looking for the relatives of his liver donor, who lives a solo life in a rundown flat but owns other more splendid ones:
“‘I’m tired of love,’ Louis said, as if it were a kind of soft, malodorous French cheese. ‘It’s okay, but the problem with it is the other person involved. She has a mind of her own. You can’t say the same thing about things.’“
Then there’s the teenager sponsored to live in America by a gay couple in San Francisco:
“Liem understood he was one of the good uses for the money Parrish had earned in two decades as a corporate accountant, a job he’d given up a few years before to work in environmental protection.”
The glimpses of Vietnam are powerful and the insight into the lives of the Vietnamese who are uprooted by war and transplanted into a new foreign culture is intimate. And while there are common threads between people, each story is individual and striking in its own way. These are stories about what it means to be a human and to navigate our cultures, our families and friends, and our countries, however many we may each have in our hearts. Read it and know that everyone has a life more complicated than you could possibly know by looking at them.
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