The Gangster We Are All Looking For by Lê Thi Diem Thúy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book was beautifully and poignantly written. The language was simple, yet compelling and visual. The book is clearly somewhat autobiographical, and while there are undercurrents of sadness, there is also enough joy and happiness to make the corners of one’s heart turn up, because we have all been there, too, we just didn’t say it as well.
For example, the chapter titled palm is about both palm trees and the palm of the narrator’s hand. The opening paragraph says, “The trees in the neighborhood were palms and eucalyptus. Along the sides of many of the houses were bushes of white jasmine that bloomed in the evening. Young girls picked the flowers and, with a thread and needle, strung the blooms into garlands. They made themselves crowns and necklaces and bracelets. If allowed to, they would wear the flowers to bed. By morning, the garlands lay crushed and spent, the white having aged to yellow, but the fragrance remained across every throat and wrist and crown that had worn them.”
The story is of an immigrant family from Vietnam, who are dealing with the dual challenges of moving to the United States and of making peace with the Vietnam War.
Somehow, in my history classes, we never quite discussed the Vietnam War. We never made it that far along. I’m not sure if it was intentional, as we were the children of the generation who fought that war, and it is possible that our parents would have strong and mixed reactions about what we should learn, or if my teachers weren’t quite as good as time management as they should have been and simply didn’t get that far in the textbooks. Either way, this book provided a glimpse of the repercussions of that war from a new point of view.
All in all the book is masterfully written, and a joy to read.
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