Reviewer: Truong Buu Lam: Dr. Lam earned his Doctorate in History from the Université Catholique de Louvain, in Belgium many years ago. He has since taught history of Southeast Asia at several Colleges and Universities in Vietnam and the USA. He has authored a few works on Vietnamese history. He is now retired and the last affiliation was the University of Hawaii.
I always try to familiarize myself with a
new book by reading all of its paraphernalia: preface, postface,
acknowledgments, introduction, etc. This time, I am so glad I did not
read the Post Script first. Otherwise it would have turned me off
from getting further into this book. That would have been a disaster!
For this book IS good, by whatever name you may give it: long story, short novel or novella. The author writes well and deserved to be complimented on her own merit and NOT because she came to the US at the age of 16, or because she gives voice to any immigrant community, or because she straddles two, three, or any number of different cultures! She authored a work of fiction and her work should be evaluated, assessed, criticized, appraised as a work of art. Period. Please forgive me for digressing.
Postcards from Nam could have been a beautifully reminisced tale of a young, budding, deep friendship –or love if you insist-- between two teenager souls evolving in an environment which emphasized the difference in their social backgrounds…without, however, erecting insuperable barriers between them. The narration flows lightly, gracefully, unhindered; the description so evocative and realistic that one has the impression of being there. One, indeed, does not need many words to declare one’s feelings or to proclaim one’s devotion. Frugal, delicate, subtle, refined, graceful is what is mandated.
When I got to my house, I was too proud to thank Nam. So I just quietly withdrew my hand. Before I closed the door, I saw, again, his almond eyes, staring down at the spot in my gut where fear had once been, yet had subsided because he had held my hand.
-Why listen, Nam? You are not sophisticated enough to be familiar with this music.
-Oh yes, I am.
-Then, tell me. What the name of this piece?...
His face reddened. He could not answer. He did not know the name of the tune. I stopped playing to look into his almond eyes, wide open and tearful. His lips trembled; his nostrils palpitated beneath the red tip of his slender nose. He looked weak and vulnerable. In his adolescent way, he was also beautiful, like a baby nightingale with drooping wings, caught in the tropical rain of the Far East.
I do not care too much for the second part of this work. The plot sounds contrived, strained; the narration unequal, even superficial. I concede that the search for Nam did give the author the opportunity to introduce two extraneous elements to the story. First, a rashomon-like account revealing the sordid and tawdry dimensions of the Vietnamese community in California. Second, the inhuman circumstances the Vietnamese boat people encountered in their escape to foreign destinations combined with the superhuman courage of certain of them. But these two aspects have already been presented to the public in all of its angles, under every light, by so many people, including eyewitnesses. The introduction of these two elements costs this work its unity and its ethereal quality. Instead of a fairy tale, we have a common tale; still a fascinating one.
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