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Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 26 review with 5 star rating   See All Ratings
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  • Posted August 12, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A beautiful memoir

    Vietnamese strikes me as a poetic language. The words form themselves not specifically around grammar, but more around ideas. In regards to Pham's style, his ability to speak both English and Vietnamese allows for some very important ideas expressed through beautiful, poetic prose. I would bring up the influence of Faulkner, which has become natural while discussing most modern authors, except that I don't think Pham has ended up sounding like him (certainly not in the same way as Garcia Marquez or Morrison, for example). As a matter of fact, what stuns the most in Catfish and Mandala is the originality of voice. That, in itself, is no small praise.

    Pham is in a school of his own. The content practically begs for interpretation from its form on the page as testimony. It tells the story of many traumas and I think it attempts to make peace for them all. At the end of some chapters, I found myself gasping for air, since the prose is intense and the ideas challenge. His passion, his energy, it's all written in this book. And I should think that if I liked it so much, then you are also likely to enjoy. Pham, I hope, will receive some very big praise eventually, and I would never hesitate to purchase another product of his labor. This book, make no mistake, deserves your money.

    I can speak the same for another memoir by Lac Su, "I Love Yous are for White People". It's raw and uncut. A beautiful story which I recommended below.

    9 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2007

    Catfish and Mandala: A Search For Identity

    Catfish and Mandala, is the story of a young Vietnamese American who is trying to find himself. He feels neither American nor Vietnamese. He is a man without a country and is striving to obtain a sense of belonging. To do this, he decides to go on a bike ride back to his homeland. On his way he hopes to remember his childhood and get a sense of his identity. Along the trip he is reunited with distant relatives and discovers how much Vietnam has changed. Throughout the novel the themes of self-discovery, perseverance, individuality in society, and family are prevalent. The author, Andrew Pham, is constantly realizing things about himself through the experiences he faces while traveling on his bicycle. Throughout the journey, he considers turning back, only to decide to push onward. In his search for acceptance into a society, his family plays a pivotal role. They represent the things he loves and hates in each culture. The best part of the novel is the beautiful writing. Andrew Pham is a master of the English language. Every flowing sentence paints a picture on the canvas that is the reader¿s mind. He weaves together a story through flashbacks to his family¿s escape from Vietnam and the memoir of his solo bike expedition. The use of each story adds to the understanding of his feelings as he searches to find himself. I enjoyed everything about this book. This is a great book to read because of the exquisite use of language. Pham also teaches several important lessons about life as an outsider, dealing with family, finding identity, and persevering throughout difficult situations. Pham offers insight to the plight of immigrants to the United States. All these important lessons are mixed into an intriguing and thought provoking story of a bike ride.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2006

    Gripping Memoir of Pain, Love, Lust and Loss

    Having just completed Catfish and Mandala, I am a bit bereft that I can not continue to know Pham's saga and life adventure. His is a story of the canyons and crevices of the heart and soul, snatches of beauty gobbled up and savored and the essential wandering and wondering associated with being alive. Anyone who has a remote understanding of cultural clashes, any experience with familial secrets or a vague sense that 'I too need to find something that defines why I am me' will thoroughly enjoy Pham's quest.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2000

    Excellent book!

    As a Vietnamese-American, I can truly relate to this book. I arrived in the U.S. in 1975 at the age of 3 and for years considered myself to be more American than Vietnamese. My first trip to Vietnam took place in 1997, and I returned in 1999 for my honeymoon. Those trips helped me to find myself and to learn more about the culture that I didn't want to be a part of for so long. Now I'm proud to be both Vietnamese and American!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2013

    Shazi to jene

    I am through w/ you!!! You cheated on me! And i looked for you every day! I am crying!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 13, 2012

    A new literary classic

    This book defines the Asian-American identity struggle in Kerouac-ian style. If you love "On The Road," and Vietnamese people, then read this book. Also, from a literary standpoint, it is one of those books that can be deeply examined. One of my faves.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2004

    A major book on being Minor!!!

    Yes. 'Catfish and Mandala' is a major book on being a minor: Asian, Vietnamese, foreign-Vietnamese, gay, transexual,etc. This book really touches me deeply. I love Mr.Pham's writing style for its brutal nakedness, yet elegant and poetric. He gathers his stories, as well as people's around him, and turned them into a book that many people can relate to. Started with melancholy loaded in his heart, Mr.Pham's bike trip turns out to be the journey of finding identity and salvation, for himself and his real-life-based characters, as well as for the readers. A beautiful work! I'm gonna end with one of my favorite quotation from the book: '..There is nothing else. No mitigating circumstances and no power to undo the sins. No was. Only is. Between us, there is but a think line of intention.' May joy and peace stay with you, Mr. Pham.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2003

    Perhaps the Best Book I Have Ever Read

    The fall of Saigon, incredible family hardships, a harrowing escape from Viet Nam. In eventually making it to California and as the family is realizing the American dream, they experience tragedy. A story so honest, so courageous and so sad that it must be true. Mr. Andrew X. Pham in his travels and through his story is able to make more sense of the Viet Nam war and what came out of it than anything else I have found in all these years. For this I thank him.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2002

    Outstanding!!!! I couldn't put it down!

    I just returned from a bike trip in Viet Nam and I read Catfish & Mandala along the way. I thought I was reading my own diary except that his was far more brutally true and had a deeper experience than an American could have. I don't think you have to like bicycle adventures or travel to enjoy this book. Its honesty, insight and humor make for a very exciting read. It is on my Christmas list for many friends!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2002

    Catfish and Mandala: 10 Thumbs up!

    Catfish and Mandala is the best book that I have read this year [2002]. I am a member of a Barnes and Noble Book Club in the state of Maryland and it was one of our assigned readings. I read this book from cover to cover in a mere one week. It was so riveting, poetic,exciting in a word:fantastic. Andrew Pham is brilliant in his description of the land of his birth. He was open and honest, and painted pictures with words. I could actually see all those places that he descibed as though I were right there. I, too am a bicycling enthusiast, and his book has encouraged me to do some touring on my own as well. I am eager to read more of his literary works.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2001

    Powerful!

    This is a superb literary work as well as a complex and deeply moving exploration of cultural identity. Andrew's courage and honesty in exploring his and his own family's pain is remarkable. This is the assigned text for a class I teach on refugee issues. All of my students love the book. I continue to enjoy it each time I read it along with my students.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2001

    A second time around is even better . . .

    I picked up Catfish and Mandala while vacationing in Hawaii a few years back. The book had inspired me to return to my homeland and become reacquainted with my own culture after 26 long forsaken years. You see, I was one of the fortunate Nationalists of South Vietnam to have come over before the fall of Saigon. For the longest time, I was ashamed of my own culture and pretended to be an American. But I am 34 now and no longer ashame of my true identity. I did my trip and it has opened my eyes to a whole new world. I highly recommend Catfish and Mandala to people of all nationalities, especially immigrants because the book reminds us who we are and where we came from. You can pretend to forget about your culture, but you cannot change the color of your skin. Just like me, I may be 'White' on the inside, but I will always be a 'banana' on the outside.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2001

    Learn who I am

    I learn about Catcfish book through friend. She highly recommended this wonderful book and currently many people at my work read and fell in love with it. It is so poetic and lovely. I met Andrew at his bookreading at Castro last year. He was so funny and his gay brother Huy, too. It is incredable how first time write wrote this way. In same chapter he went through three different time frames. Current event, his childhood memory, his parents or other sibling's life. He said, 'I just worte whatever came to my heart'. What a great gift he gave us. Following Viet- Mercury, Vietnamese community is not welcoming his book, because it contains too much stories about their secrecy. We all endeaver to find who I am through our lives. Most of us do not have couage to take off from our lives and go away. I send big Applause to his courage to take off to trip and find himself. By the way, I started eating catfish in Clay pot when I go to Vietnamese restaurant and it tastes pretty good.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2001

    I cannot loan you this book....

    Andrew Pham is one of the most incredible writers. Sorry, you will not be able to borrow this book. Maybe you could get it as a gift... Having lived in southeast Asia, I have always wanted to go to these areas where Andrew bicycled, and now I have even more interest. His sister would be so proud of his accounts of their lives. I certainly am proud to rave about it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2001

    I Didn't Want It To End!

    Whenever I travel abroad, I try to take along a travel narrative of the country I am visiting. How wonderful it was have Catfish and Manadala accompany me on my recent trip to Vietnam. Not only does Andrew Pham open up his heart and soul to us - his prose and descriptions of Vietnam today are so precise, at times I found myself relying more on his words than those in my guide book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2000

    Breathtaking!

    Andrew Pham will hook you on the very first page of this book, and take you along for an unforgettable ride to the last page. While the story of his travels is engrossing, this is really a book about people, family, relationships, etc. Wonderfully written, it might just become one of your favorite books.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2000

    A Stunning Voyage into one American's Identity

    An incredible read. It only took a page or two before I realized I didn't care what Andrew Pham was writing about (although everything he is writing about is fascinating). I just wanted to savor his words, his style, his clean, unpretentious, yet rich use of language. This isn't just a record of a bicycle journey - it recounts a journey into identity and being. The author was a Vietnamese boat-person at age 10, and now he is a Californian, with a perhaps all too typically dysfunctional immigrant family. He returns to Vietnam (and his Third World, war-torn childhood) to seek some sort of answers to who he is and why, and along the way wanders through time and across continents. Interwoven with his soul-searching over the suicide of his transsexual sister (he also has two gay brothers - identity has many layers here), there is a deeper search for the meaning of personal history, culture and self. This is that wonderful book that really does defy description. I couldn't put it down and will return to it again.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2000

    One of the best adventure/memoir/search-for-self books

    The 25th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon was approaching, as was a conference at NYC's Asia Society on Vietnamese American authors, so I purchased this book for a friend. But before I gave the book away, I started to read the preface. And I was as hooked as a net caught in a propeller. I gorged myself on this book's language. It was so poetic, I wanted to deconstruct the sentences to see how Pham built them. How this book did not win a National Book Award I can not fathom. (although it was honored with the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize). As was said in the reviews above and below, Pham's book is an adventure book as worthy as any Outside Magazine story, a memoir, and an extended essay on cultural identity, immigration, guilt, and family dynamics. The metaphor filled, flowing chapters alternate between his current bike trip, the immigrant experience, and his family's flight from Vietnam two decades ago. The book is honest, humorous (as in when he relates his Dilbert-like experiences working as an aerospace engineer in California, or when his brother's boyfriend offers him a supermarket of armaments for road biking protection), psychologically complex (the duty of the first son, the guilt over a suicide), frightening (when relating the experiences of his father in a post-War Vietnamese prison, their escape as boat-people, finding lodging at the home of what may be an escaped mental patient), gutsy (finding a bike path from Narita Airport), sensual, exhilarating, sad, profound, and subtle (can you save every beggar, can you marry every poor Vietnamese woman). Simple a must read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2000

    Pham Won the 1999 Kiriyama Pacific Rim Award for Nonfiction.

    A captivating, insightful, refreshing--MUST read. It has been a long time since I've read a book in one sitting. Pham's novel is from the heart covering the full gamut of feelings. There are many lessons to be had from Pham's experiences which we would do well to learn from reading than from living them.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 1999

    One of the best books about displacement and healing in hard ways

    Between the harrowing escape from Vietnam when he was ten and the traumas of his family's American acculturation, it would seem that Andrew Pham did not NEED to go on dangerous bicycle expeditions to get material. However, he has written a rich, multilayered, moving, and very accomplished a book combining a haunting family history with tales of very rough travel, and reflections on being regarded as a crazy alien in Vietnam and America (and Japan). Pham is obviously very resilient, both physically and emotionally and makes something of great value from painful personal history and difficult travel.

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