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Pushed to Shore

Pushed to Shore

by Kate Gadbow, Rosellen Brown (Foreword by)

Winner of the 2001 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction

"This novel’s poignancy, I think, comes from the paradoxical confrontation between innocence and experience these Asian strivers are caught in—at the same time that they are rendered childlike by ignorance of their new culture, we know they have been singed and seared, and therefore secretly


Winner of the 2001 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction

"This novel’s poignancy, I think, comes from the paradoxical confrontation between innocence and experience these Asian strivers are caught in—at the same time that they are rendered childlike by ignorance of their new culture, we know they have been singed and seared, and therefore secretly toughened. Immigration is such a significant phenomenon right now that this tension between competency and confusion, maturity and infantilization is an enormously fecund subject for a novelist with a well-developed sense of irony."—From the Foreword by Rosellen Brown

In an essay written for his ESL class, a young student describes his flight from Vietnam at the age of 12, in a fishing boat with three friends. They were beaten by Thai pirates, fell faint with hunger and pain, until they were "pushed to the kind shore by a finger of God." The phrase evokes an overriding metaphor for this resonant first novel by Kate Gadbow, in which a community of Vietnamese and Hmong refugees struggles to maintain balance between the world they fled and the one they are currently negotiating in Missoula, Montana. Gadbow meshes the lives of these refugees with that of the book’s narrator Janet Hunter, a teacher struggling to manage contemporary life, with a failed marriage and a string of disappointments haunting her own past.

In a deceptively simple prose style that reads like easy conversation, and with an admirable lack of sentimentality, Kate Gadbow has written a remarkable novel depicting the clash of cultures and the difficult realities inherent to a world given only to constant change, where the harbor of a kind shore seems frustratingly out of reach.

Kate Gadbow directs the Creative Writing Program and teaches undergraduate fiction classes at the University of Montana in Missoula, where she lives with her husband, journalist Daryl Gadbow.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Novelist Rosellen Brown selected this earnest first novel about a western Montana English as a Second Language schoolteacher for the publisher's Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction. In the mid-1980s, 35-year-old Janet Hunter leaves her tenure-track job at the University of Montana to devote herself to helping high school-age Hmong and Vietnamese refugees adjust to cacophonous American life. Divorced and lonely herself, Janet is sensitive to her students' concerns, encouraging them to write about their harrowing ordeals-one favorite student with hideous scars on his head writes of his escape from Vietnam in a fishing boat that was "pushed to the kind shore by a finger of God." Conflicts arise when old world customs clash with new world rules, as when Pao, another of Janet's favorites, is arrested for shooting a deer out of season. Janet's kindly, sometimes misdirected shepherding of her charges wins the reader's sympathy: she takes her class en masse to the mall to explore the "World of Work," attends a Hmong New Year's celebration and grieves when Pao's reluctant acceptance of American medical know-how, in the form of pills for his depression, fails him. Gadbow's characterizations are astute, but her detailed chronicle of Janet's very ordinary life-conversations with single friend Judy, a romance with the lawyer who defends Pao in court, a week's bout with the flu-grows tedious. Most memorable is the novel's sensitive portrayal of the fragile hopes of young Hmong and Vietnamese refugees. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Winner of the 2001 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, Gadbow offers a first novel set in Missoula, MT. Janet Hunter, divorced and lonely, accepts the challenge of teaching displaced Vietnamese and Hmong teenagers who have been scarred physically and emotionally by the Vietnam War. She attempts to give them hope and becomes their champion as she tries to explain American culture and the animosity of some high school students toward them. Inevitably, some of the students cannot make the transition, and, tragically, one commits suicide. However, even with this awful event and her own disappointments, Janet learns from two of the students that one must move forward. Gadbow writes in straightforward, conversational prose that gradually draws the reader into a story about the sadness and beauty of life. Recommended for all public libraries, particularly those with an interest in fiction on Vietnamese Americans and immigration.-Cheryl L. Conway, Univ. of Arkansas Lib., Fayetteville Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Debut about a middle-aged schoolteacher who rebuilds her life after her marriage collapses-all the while introducing her immigrant students to America and its culture. Montana may not seem the most likely destination for Vietnamese refugees, but after crossing the Pacific in a raft, few are likely to balk at traveling a few thousand miles inland. Moreover, the hills and ridges of Montana bear a striking resemblance to the hinterlands of Laos and Vietnam, a fact that may have inspired the US government to award a Missoula ranch to a former Vietnamese general who, until 1973, had worked for many years as a CIA operative. The general brought his family, and his family brought their friends, and before long there was a sizable Southeast Asian community. Janet Hunter is a newcomer as well, and, although she didn't come by raft, she also owes her arrival in some sense to the fall of Saigon insofar as she moved to Montana from Washington State to teach ESL to the immigrants' children. A 1960s-era radical who protested the war as a student, Janet became more traditional with time, marrying an old comrade from the SDS and settling down to an academic career. Her husband soon grew distant and began having affairs, however, and within three years the two were divorced. Now Janet, newly single and far from home, finds herself in a world nearly as foreign to her as it is to her students. As she struggles to adjust, she becomes intrigued by the traumas of her students-nearly all have lost close relatives and friends to war. Preternaturally quiet and self-contained by American standards, the students eventually reveal their stories to Janet, who takes inspiration from their resilience and finds strengthto re-create her own life as they have. A quiet portrait, in a plain and straightforward style, of simple and unassuming people who rise above horrendous tribulations.

Product Details

Sarabande Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

I'm watching Vinh Le again. He daydreams, stares out the window, his chin resting on one slender hand. In profile, he's older than his fifteen years and a little fierce. Blue-black hair hangs ragged over his collar. His narrow mouth turns down at the corner. But it's the cheekbone, high and pronounced, that gives him the look of a Mongol warrior. He feels me watching and turns back to the workbook. He pulls at the brim of his baseball cap and squints as he bends to the page. I think he may need glasses. The room hisses with soft murmurs. Vinh and several others are Vietnamese, but the rest are Hmong, refugees from Laos who came to Montana on the heels of their general, Vang Pao. Though scarcely out of childhood themselves, many have babies and toddlers at home. They speak to their workbooks as I've heard them speak to their children--in soft, rapid whispers. I've been watching Vinh since I gave a writing assignment two weeks ago. Before that his was just another face whose dark, guarded eyes wouldn't quite meet mine. "Write about yourselves," I said. "Teach me something new." They looked at me and frowned. It was the same look they gave me when I told them to use my first name. Now they call me Mees Janet. Their essays are in contorted, refugee-camp English. Short. Heartbreaking. "When I live in Laos, I have a rooster. He can be fight." Or "My name is Lee Thao. My father die in 1977. My brother die in 1979. We live in jungle seven month." Vinh worked on his essay three days and wanted more time. I gave it to him because he came to my desk and asked me. He hardly ever talks in class and avoids my eyes in the halls. His finished essay is six pages long and tells of his escape from Vietnam in a fishing boat, Vinh and three of his friends. All of them were twelve; none of them told their families. It has misspellings and faulty grammar. But there are also those descriptions--of beatings by Thai pirates that came in "boats like bronze birds slipping over soft water"; of nights when all four boys slept, faint with hunger and pain and were "pushed to the kind shore by a finger of God." I've studied him in class since he turned it in. I ask him questions, try to get him to talk. I see him around town too with four or five other Vietnamese boys who live here in Missoula. They stand on the street corners in their black Saigon jackets with crimson birds and dragons embroidered on the backs. They try to look tough, but only succeed in looking out of place in this university town full of mild bicyclists and the occasional cowboy.

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