Aimee Phan. Two immigrant families, spanning from California to Vietnam to Paris struggle to make their path in life.
Cherry Truong has always followed the right path, obeying her parents and getting good grades. Being born in America, Cherry was raised to believe in the American Dream. Her parents constantly drove home the point that education is the only way to success. When we first meet Cherry she is a woman in transition. She has delayed going to medical school, choosing instead to visit her exiled older brother Lum, who is living in Vietnam. Lum followed his own path. What led him to return to his birth place? It takes a while before we get there. But in a nutshell Lum was an embarrassment to his family. It reached a level to where Cherry was seriously injured.
Lum was supposed to return to California after six months, but chose to find his own life instead. A life where is father, Sanh, mother, Tuyet, and Grandmother Vo aren't constantly reminding him what a disappointment he was. He seemed to be the only character who fought for some individuality, albeit he did it in a bad way. Instead of getting into a top college Lum went to a community college. Instead of getting a good job, he was in a dead-end position at a flower shop. He gets sucked into gambling. He loses more than he wins. But I wondered if he were a "successful" gambler (if there is such a term), would his family be so disapproving? Before coming to America, Grandma Vo became wealthy by selling opium. She was essentially a small-time drug dealer, but because she was more discreet in her practices everyone else turns a blind eye. She provided for her daughters after her husband's death, so it's ok. Shhhhh!!! The family matriarch was a drug dealer, but it's ok because you have to respect your elders. When Lum calls her out, Grandma Vo is determined to bring down her grandson.
There is so much good stuff with Cherry's side of the family alone, it was a little hard to get into some of the other subplots. We go back and forth between the present day in California and Paris, and post-war Vietnam. Points of view constantly shift between the past and the present. I don't normally have a problem with that but this book has so many characters. It's hard to connect with some characters when you're trying to remember what happened with the others.
I was intrigued the most by Cherry, Grandma Vo and Sanh's mother, Hoa. Cherry is caught between worlds. She loves her brother and she loves her parents, but she is constantly caught between them. She tries to understand her parents by delving into their past. Maybe if she understand what led them to America, maybe Cherry can truly understand herself. But by the end, which felt a little abrupt, you wonder if Cherry will truly get any satisfaction. In my opinion, Grandma Vo was nothing more than a hypocrite. I had to laugh every time she is asserting her moral authority over everyone, when all she really needed to do was look in the mirror. Hoa just wanted to keep her family together, but her rather surly husband, Hung, did every thing he could to suppress her voice. Whenever she wanted to express her opinion, Hung reminds her that wives are supposed to be seen and not heard. But no matter what he said, it seemed like she still loved him.
Aside from my issues with the book, I did like it. It's a different take on the immigrant experience and what it takes to find your path in life.
Note: I received an e-galley of the book from Wunderkind PR.