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A Vietnamese American Voice
In her semi-autobiographical novel Monkey Bridge, Lan Cao displays Vietnam not as a war, but as the bond that ties together a mother's relationship with her daughter, by brilliantly manipulating descriptive imagery, while incorporating profound motifs. The author creates an adventure for the reader through her meticulous details, which draw the reader into Cao's spellbinding flashbacks of her experiences of war. Cao incorporates the experience and struggles of an immigrant family consisting of a mother and daughter to depict the difficulty of adjusting to a completely different change in culture and beliefs, and to give the novel substance and meaning. The motif of the mother-daughter role reversal reveals Cao's understanding of the attitude immigrants had towards the war and adjusting in America. Although the novel is told in the daughter Mai's point of view, Cao cleverly establishes the mother's thoughts and feelings through the use of a diary. The diary explains Vietnam's superb beauty, delicacies, and traditions, while upholding the plot of the story. Through the diary, the reader discovers the truth behind Baba Quan, who represents everything that brings pain, suffering, and bad karma to the Nguyen family. The diary also explains the mother's disillusionment towards the hustle and bustle in America, and confusion of her daughter's unwillingness to respect the Vietnamese way. Thus, Cao uses Mai to represent the immigrant with an American point of view, while the mother represents the Vietnamese position. The daughter tries to fit into the pressures of being a teenager in America while being raised in the strict, traditional boundaries of her home; whereas her mother struggles to accept the loss of her father while trying to survive in a country that contradicts everything she stands for. Cao wanted to repudiate the fallacy that Vietnam is just a war. She wanted to show Vietnam's true culture and heart, the part that is overshadowed by the aftermath of war. Through the use of the diary, Cao is able to argue her position as a Vietnamese immigrant herself, and defend her native country from the facts and from the fallacies; thus, showing the true meaning behind Vietnam. Cao proves that behind the bloody curtain, Vietnam represents a garden of culture, tradition, and beauty that blooms and continues to bloom for the world to see. Although the bloodshed of war brought destruction and massacre to a beautiful country, it fails to bury the power of faith and hope that resides in the strong bond of a family.
If you like Cao's depiction of the Vietnamese American experience in America, you will truly enjoy Lac Su's stories in his memoir, "I Love Yous are for White People".
6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 20, 2007
Fantastic novel on eastern culture
In Lan Cao¿s ¿Monkey Bridge,¿ she succeeds in doing what very few authors have by capturing the essence and simplicity of eastern culture in a western novel. It is a story told from the wary eyes of a young Vietnamese immigrant girl who is unaccustomed to her new American way of life. Mai is a character who respects her past but also questions its place in American society. As the novel progresses, an immutable rift grows between Mai and her mother as American culture widens both the cultural and generational gap between family members. The novel addresses the familial duties of honor and respect, as well as the societal behaviors of conformity and change. As the novel progresses, the themes do as well eventually highlighting the concepts of treachery, betrayal, and unchecked passion. The setting is Post-Vietnam America¿a sensitive era of healing, when many Americans simply want to put the past behind them. However, for Mai and her family, putting the past behind them ultimately means abandoning their culture for a new way of life. Though Mai wants to be accepted by her peers, there are also things in her past that have never been explained to her. In an attempt to find answers, Mai reads the diaries of her mother hoping to bridge the gap growing between them. Finally, at the end of the novel Mai¿s mother explains in indiscriminate detail their dark family history¿a revelation that disturbs Mai and awakens in her greater love and appreciation for her mother. In the end, Lan Cao crafts an engrossing tale that is stark in its reality and surreal in its authenticity. It is a tale that captures in perfection the immigrant experience and ultimately the audacity of human spirit.
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 8, 2003
Refreshing and Welcomed!
I am a child of Vietnamese immigrants and have read dozens of novels, plays and what not, and Cao's book about Mai's experience is extremely relatable. However, I think that this book transcends the Vietnamese American experience, and encompasses all general trends children of any immigrant parents have. I thought it was somewhat long winded at times, but overall, this book is refreshing and welcomed for it's contribution to America's meager literature on the Asian American Immigrant experience and particularly the Vietnamese American Experience.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 10, 2001
Just say no.
I am a freshman at Redmond High School and read the book Monkey Bridge as part of a project we were doing on the five themes of geography. Though this book often spoke of culture it rarely spoke of the land or peoples interaction with it. The speaker within the book seemed very involved with her family and the workings of them but oblivious to the physical surroundings around them. The author would often neglect anything except her feelings about the situation around her, which left us in the dark to what was going on all we knew was how we felt about it. The language in the book is very well written but it seems that the conventions of her words were focused on more than the content of them. This is not a book I would recommend reading and one that I had a hard time doing so myself.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.