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In depicting the resettlement hardships of Vietnamese refugees in America during the late 20th century, playwright Quí Nguyễn creates a full portrait of the Vietnamese refugee during their first few years in America. He offers us a way to see that one can look back at a past filled with vulnerability, naivety, and failures, and laugh at it all even while crying, and still be pleased with all that has passed.
Fire Summer begins with the political intrigue of counterrevolution in Vietnam, but it is fundamentally a quest narrative full of detours and discoveries. In the world Lam creates, strong emotions change reality. Due to the love that binds the living and the dead, the dead remain vibrant.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a book-length letter of a 28-year-old gay Vietnamese American man to his mother. It is a letter she cannot read, but it doesn’t make it less important. Through impressionistic scenes, Little Dog, the novel’s narrator, builds not only a picture of the life he has with his mother but a landscape of love, memory, and ultimately history.
“People here,” he says, “still think Vietnam is a jungle—brown savages, an exotic Asian whore who you can’t possess, but still satisfies all your sexual demands. It’s burnt into the American imagination. You can’t change that.” In a quietly controlled book, it’s an unexpected moment of rage, where the author and her character lay bare the type of narrative she’s working against.
The displacement felt in these moments is like a gut punch, and I can feel my children feeling it, through my feeling it. They watch me as I read to them. I, too, am a refugee, I tell them. What a thing it is to be removed from a land, to flee from it, to begin again.