I stumbled upon “The Gangster We Are All Looking For,” through a class reading. The novel, although published over five years ago, still stands as a driving force today.
“The Gangster We Are All Looking For” brings us all back to our memories of not being able to understand a world around us, a world that is seemingly trying to crush us with every step we take. We were all wandering souls at one point, especially during the time of war. Lê thi diem thúy gives us a first person narrative of a somewhat fictional version of herself.
The novel continuously skips around causing the reader in many cases to make assumptions about the nameless narrator and her surroundings. The reader does not give a sense of a story but rather takes us on journey with her between the past, present and future. Thúy never gives us an in-dept anaylsis on anyone character or shows progression but rather stays distant from all the characters. The characters are all very far from us, she never shows us a in-dept glimpse into their personalities, however maybe this is also her point. As a second generation child growing up, this is how I also viewed my parents, as vague and far off, always talking in circles, worrying, confused, and doing things that did not make sense. Thúy gives us a shared feeling of the situation we were put in as we were placed in layers of confinement by our elders. The first layer of the trap being the witnesses of our elders’ pain of identity loss and struggle, and the second layer of dealing with the expectations and confusion that has come from their struggle put upon their children. As well as third layer of growing up, breaking free, and being able to figure out your own answers.
Her nameless narrator demonstrates her loss of identity, her loss of home, and her longing for familiarity and comfort. Old Vietnam is now gone, America is distant; all we have are traces of familiarity. Our past comforts are now restricted to artifacts like palm trees. She gives us pieces of memories that we are forced to put together, like her parents love story in Vietnam, her dad seemingly “gangster” ways, her mom being a “bad-ass,” as well as her struggles with the death of her brother. It takes some figuring out on the readers part to dismantle which the memories are real, which are made up, or if everything was not meant to make sense in the first place.
There is no character the reader can relate to, no one story for the reader to follow, thúy takes the novel on an opposing force against fiction in this way. The novel takes you on a passage of discovery and in the end of the novel you end up finding nothing and it keeps the reader wondering. However maybe this is the mindset that all those affected in the novel are left with as well. What happened to the family, how did the parents turn out, what became of the little girl that wanted to be free? We are all left with these questions in the end, maybe the narrator herself does not know.
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