|The cover of Những Người Thầm Lặng (Quiet as They Come) by Vietnamese American writer Angie Chau, published by Hồ Chí Minh General Publishing House. Photo courtesy of the publishing house.|
Lương Thu Hương
HÀ NỘI The struggles of Vietnamese immigrants to the US have been depicted by the Vietnamese-American writer Angie Chau in her debut collection, 'Quiet as They Come'.
Set in San Francisco, from the 1980s to the present day, Quiet As They Come is a beautiful, brutal and humorous portrait of ordinary people caught between two cultures.
IG Publishing House published the collection of stories in 2010. It was a Finalist in First Fiction for The California Book Award and a Finalist in Fiction for the Northern California Independent Booksellers' Award. The book has been translated and published in Việt Nam by Hồ Chí Minh General Publishing House under the title 'Những Người Thầm Lặng'.
Eleven stories in the book surround the lives of three families forced to share a Victorian house in San Francisco's Sunset District due to history and circumstances.
With one family to each bedroom, each closet brims with desire and suppression, secrets from the past, and dreams for the future. While some can survive and assimilate, others are crushed by the false promise of the 'American Dream.'
As the families branch out, their lives illuminate the distinctive struggle of refugees, who have found shelter yet continually search for a home.
"It comes from my own experience and hearing the stories from family and family friends of their journey as refugees and immigrants.
"I wanted to show the human experience or slice of life for a group of people that before hadn't been seen as much in popular media or literature in the US. I wanted to share the particularities of being from Việt Nam and highlight Vietnamese culture and people, but more importantly, I wanted to share the commonality in our human experience. We all share similar hopes, dreams, ambitions, and fears cross-culturally," Angie said about the inspiration for the book.
Its title, Quiet as They Come, is a play on the stereotype of Asian-Americans as being 'quiet', 'shy' and 'introverted'.
"That is how Việt, the main character in the title story, Quiet As They Come, is described by a co-worker who doesn't know him well. However, I believe the characters in the collection show they are more than that and break the stereotype," the author said.
Two generations of Vietnamese people are seen in the collection – the adults carrying with them memories of Việt Nam and struggling to overcome the difficulty of integration; and the younger ones who are eager to explore and easily adapt to the new culture. The generation gap and conflicts between them have emerged from such differences in attitudes and lifestyles.
"All of the stories are told by Angie in a calm voice that seems as casual as someone else's. It creates an objective perspective and, at the same time, helps readers, especially immigrants, see their own shadows. Each story, whether a slice of life, a fleeting emotion, or even a small detail, evokes the general theme that Angie wants to convey: read to understand more about the life of Vietnamese people abroad," said Doctor of Literature, Trần Lê Hoa Tranh.
|Angie Chau is one of the few Vietnamese writers who writes in English in the US. Photo angiechau.com|
Angie Chau was born in Việt Nam in 1974 and left the country at the age of 4.
She has also lived in Malaysia, Italy, Spain, and Hawaii and currently resides in California. She earned a BA in Southeast Asian Culture and Political Economy from the University of California, Berkeley and a Master's degree in English with a Creative Writing emphasis from the University of California, Davis, where she was the fiction editor for The Greenbelt Review. She is a member of The San Francisco Writers' Grotto and Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network.
She has been awarded a Hedgebrook Residency, an Anderson Centre Residency, and a Macondo Foundation Fellowship. Her work has appeared in the Indiana Review, Santa Clara Review, Night Train Magazine, and New California Writing. She won the UC Davis Maurice Prize in Fiction in 2009.
"Angie is one of the few Vietnamese writers who write in English in the US. Together with other Vietnamese-American writers such as Monique Truong, Andrew Lam, Dao Storm, and Lai Thanh Ha, they are gradually creating a second generation of Vietnamese writers to compete with American writers and other communities in the literary game written in the local language.
"Many of them have returned to Việt Nam to find, talk, share, and become more aware of their roots. Angie has also returned. She went to the University of Social Sciences and Humanities - HCMC National University to speak with students of the Faculty of Literature and at the American Centre," Tranh said.
The female author is currently working on a novel set in 1960s Sài Gòn, which tells the story of a young woman from the Vietnamese aristocracy falling in love with the man of her dreams only to discover that he is not who he appears to be.
"I hope to bring a fresh perspective to the historical novel genre, exploring the Vietnam war through the lenses of Vietnamese women instead of men and American soldiers," she said. VNS