A Vietnamese Bicycle Days by a stunning new voice in American letters.
Andrew X. Pham dreamed of becoming a writer. Born in Vietnam and raised in California, he held technical jobs at United Airlines-and always carried a letter of resignation in his briefcase. His father had been a POW of the Vietcong; his family came to America as "boat people." His sister committed suicide, prompting Andrew to quit his job. He sold all of his possessions and embarked on a year-long bicycle journey that took him through the Mexican desert, where he was treated as a bueno hermano, a "good brother"; around a thousand-mile loop from Narita to Kyoto in Japan; and, after five months and 2,357 miles, to Saigon, where he finds "nothing familiar in the bombed-out darkness." In Mexico he's treated kindly as a Vietnamito, though he shouts, "I'm American, Vietnamese American!" In Vietnam, he's taken for Japanese or Korean by his countrymen, except, of course, by his relatives, who doubt that as a Vietnamese he has the stamina to complete his journey ("Only Westerners can do it"); and in the United States he's considered anything but American. A vibrant, picaresque memoir written with narrative flair and a wonderful, eye-opening sense of adventure, Catfish and Mandala is an unforgettable search for cultural identity.
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|File size:||461 KB|
About the Author
Andrew X. Pham was born in Vietnam in 1967 and moved to California with his family after the war. He lives in San Jose, California. Catfish and Mandala is his first book.
Andrew X. Pham was born in Vietnam in 1967 and moved to California with his family after the war. He lives in San Jose, California. Catfish and Mandala is his first book.
Read an Excerpt
Catfish and Mandala
A Two Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam
By Andrew X. Pham
Picador and Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 1999 Andrew X. Pham
All rights reserved.
Exile – Pilgrim
The first thing I notice about Tyle is that he can squat on his haunches Third World — style, indefinitely. He is a giant, an anachronistic Thor in rasta drag, bare-chested, barefoot, desert-baked golden. A month of wandering the Mexican wasteland has tumbled me into his lone camp warded by cacti. Rising from the makeshift pavilion staked against the camper top of his pickup, he moves to meet me with an idle power I envy. I see the wind has carved leathery lines into his legend-hewn face of fjords and right angles.
In a dry, earthen voice, he asks me, "Looking for the hot spring?"
"Yeah, Agua Caliente. Am I even close?"
"Sure. This is the place. Up the way a couple hundred yards."
"Amazing! I found it!"
He smiles, suddenly very charismatic, and shakes his head of long matty blond hair. "How you got here on that bike is amazing."
I had been pedaling and pushing through the forlorn land, roaming the foreign coast on disused roads and dirt tracks. When I was hungry or thirsty, I stopped at ranches and farms and begged the owners for water from their wells and tried to buy tortillas, eggs, goat cheese, and fruit. Every place gave me nourishment; men and women plucked grapefruits and tangerines from their family gardens, bagged food from their pantries, and accepted not one peso in return. Why, I asked them. Señor, they explained in the patient tone reserved for those convalescing, you are riding a bicycle, so you are poor. You are in the desert going nowhere, so you are crazy. Taking money from a poor and crazy man brings bad luck. All the extras, they confided, were because I wasn't a gringo. A crew of Mexican ranchers said they liked me because I was a bueno hermano — good brother — a Vietnamito, and my little Vietnam had golpea big America back in'75. But I'm American, Vietnamese American, I shouted at them. They grinned — Sí, sí, Señor — and grilled me a slab of beef.
Tyle says, "So, where are you from?"
"Bay Area, California."
"No. Where are you from? Originally".
I have always hated this question and resent him for asking. I hide my distaste because it is un-American. Perhaps I will lie. I often do when someone corners me. Sometimes, my prepared invention slips out before I realize it: I'm Japanese — Korean — Chinese — mixed — race Asian. No, sir, can't speak any language but good old American English.
This time, I turn the question: "Where do you think?"
Something about him makes me dance around the truth. I chuckle, painfully aware that "I'm an American" carries little weight with him. It no doubt resonates truer in his voice.
The blond giant holds me with his green eyes, making me feel small, crooked. So I reply, "We nips all look alike."
But it isn't enough. He looks the question at me again, and, by a darkness on his face, I know I owe him.
"I'm from Vietnam."
A flinch in the corner of his eye. He grunts, a sound deep from his diaphragm. Verdict passed. He turns his back to me and heaves into the cactus forest.
I stand, a trespasser in his camp, hearing echoes — Chink, gook, Jap, Charlie, GO HOME, SLANT-EYES!-words that, I believe, must 'have razored my sister Chi down dark alleys, hounded her in the cold after she had fled home, a sixteen-year-old runaway, an illegal alien without her green card. What vicious clicking sounds did they make in her Vietnamese ears, wholly new to English? And, within their boundaries, which America did she find?
A man once revealed something which disturbed me too much to be discounted. He said, "Your sister died because she became too American."
Later in the night, from the thick of the brush, Tyle ghosts into the orange light of my campfire. He nods at me and folds himself cross-legged before the popping flames, uncorks a fresh tequila bottle, takes a swig, and hands it to me. We sit on the ground far apart enough that with outstretched arms we still have to lean to relay the bottle.
I grip the warm sand between my toes and loll the tart tequila on my tongue. A bottom-heavy moon teeters on the treetops. Stars balm the night. We seem content in our unspoken truce.
When the bottle is half empty, Tyle begins to talk. At first, he talks about the soothing solitude of the Mexican desert. Life is simple here, food cheap, liquor plentiful. He earns most of his money from selling his handicrafts — bracelets, woven bands, beads, leather trinkets — to tourists. When times are tough, there are always a few Mexicans who will hire him for English lessons or translations. And the border isn't too far if he needs to work up a large chunk of cash. Between the mundane details, his real life comes out obliquely. Tyle has a wife and two boys. He has been away from them nine years. I am the first Vietnamese he has seen since he fled to Mexico seven years ago.
When four fingers of tequila slosh at the bottom of the bottle, he asks me, "Have you been back to Vietnam?"
"No. But someday I'll go back ... to visit."
Many Vietnamese Americans "have been back." For some of us, by returning as tourists we prove to ourselves that we are no longer Vietnamese but Vietnamese Americans. We return, with our hearts in our throats, to taunt the Communist regime, to show through our material success that we, the once pitiful exiles, are now the victors. No longer the poverty-stricken refugees clinging to fishing boats, spilling out of cargo planes onto American soil, a mess of open-mouthed terror, wide-eyed awe, hungry and howling for salvation. Time has veiled the days when America fished us out of the ocean like drowning cockroaches and fed us and clothed us — we, the onus of their tragedy. We return and, in our personal silence, we gloat at our conquerors, who now seem like obnoxious monkeys cheating over baubles, our baggage, which mean little to us. Mostly, we return because we are lost.
Tyle says, "I was in Nam."
I have guessed as much. Not knowing what to say, I nod. Vets — acquaintances and strangers — have said variations of this to me since I was a kid and didn't know what or where Nam was. The contraction was lost on a boy struggling to learn English. But the note, the way these men said it, told me it was important, someplace I ought to know. With the years, this statement took on new meanings, each flavored by the tone of the speaker. There was bitterness, and there was bewilderment. There was loss and rage and every shade of emotion in between. I heard declarations, accusations, boasts, demands, obligations, challenges, and curses in the four words: I was in Nam. No matter how they said it, an ache welled up in me until an urge to make some sort of reparation slicked my palms with sweat. Some gesture of conciliation. Remorse. A word of apology.
He must have seen me wince for he says it again, more gently.
At that, I do something I've never done before. I bow to him like a respected colleague. It is a bow of acknowledgment, a bow of humility, the only way I can tell him I know of his loss, his sufferings.
Looking into the fire, he says softly, "Forgive me. Forgive me for what I have done to your people."
The night buckles around me. "What, Tyle?"
"I'm sorry, man. I'm really sorry," he whispers. The blond giant begins to cry, a tired, sobless weeping, tears falling away untouched.
My mouth forms the words, but I cannot utter them. No. No, Tyle. How can I forgive you? What have you done to my people? But who are my people? I don't know them. Are you my people? How can you be my people? All my life, I've looked at you sideways, wondering if you were wondering if my brothers had killed your brothers in the war that made no sense except for the one act of sowing me here — my gain — in your bed, this strange rich-poor, generous-cruel land. I move through your world, a careful visitor, respectful and mindful, hoping for but not believing in the day when I become native. I am the rootless one, yet still the beneficiary of all of your and all of their sufferings. Then why, of us two, am I the savior, and you the sinner?
"Please forgive me."
I deny him with my silence.
His Viking face mashes up, twisting like a child's just before the first bawl. It doesn't come. Instead words cascade out, disjointed sentences, sputtering incoherence that at the initial rush sound like a drunk's ravings. Nameless faces. Places. Killings. He bleeds it out, airs it into the flames, pours it on me. And all I can do is gasp Oh, God at him over and over, knowing I will carry his secrets all my days.
He asks my pardon yet again, his open hand outstretched to me. This time the quiet turns and I give him the absolution that is not mine to give. And, in my fraudulence, I know I have embarked on something greater than myself.
"When you go to Vietnam," he says, stating it as a fact, "tell them about me. Tell them about my life, the way I'm living. Tell them about the family I've lost. Tell them I'm sorry."
I give Tyle the most honored gift, the singular gift we Vietnamese give best, the gift into which one can cast all one's sorrow like trash into an abyss, only sometimes the abyss lies inside the giver. I give him silence.CHAPTER 2
I am a Vietnamese-American man. In my work boots, I am of average height, of medium build, and not too ghastly of face. I like going to the movies and reading novels in cafés. If I had to choose one cuisine to eat for the rest of my life, I'd take Italian without hesitation, though I do harbor secret cravings for hickory-smoked baby-back ribs and New Orleans gumbo. And I like buying cookbooks more than cooking. I enjoy tennis, basketball, baseball, football, and, lately, yes, hockey — from the bleachers or in my La-Z-Boy. My choice daily wear is a pair of five-year-old Levi's and a mock turtleneck (I have a drawerful, all the same size, same brand, different colors). I don't wear yellow, red, orange, or anything bright: they complicate the laundry process. No G-string underwear. Socks, plain white or black only.
My family arrived in America on September 17, 1977. I was ten. Of the Vietnam War I knew little, recalling only vignettes and images. Too young to know about its politics until I was about to enter American middle school. Fifth grade, Mr. Jenkin's class, I raised my voice against a teacher for the first time. Eighteen months in America, that much English learned. He was lecturing on the history of the Vietnam War. Something he said must have set me off because I shouted at him, summoning forth adults' drunken words I'd picked up eavesdropping: America left Vietnam. America not finish war. One more day bombing, Viet Cong die. One more day! No. America go home! America chicken! Mr. Jenkin colored, a tomato-flush rising from his buttoned collar to his feathery blond hair. I could tell he wanted to strike me, but I knew they didn't do that in America so I didn't say I was sorry. Chopping the air with his hand, he screamed, No! No! Wrong! And five minutes of English I couldn't understand.
Much later, I realized with some guilt that perhaps his brother had died in the War, and if it had gone on, he might have lost another. I wish I could tell him now that what I really meant was that my father was in prison because of the War. I was shouting about our imprisonment, about the dark wet cells, the whippings, the shootings, the biting rats, and the fists of dirty rice we ate. These things I remember unfogged by the intervening years. Somehow terribly vivid, irreducible.
I was there. After Saigon fell on April 30, 1975, our family fled deeper south, hoping to find a boat that would take us to Thailand. Outside of Rach Gia, a port city, the Viet Cong had set up a road barricade and caught us along with some three hundred people heading toward the coast to flee the country. Women and children were locked, fifty to a room, in a wing separate from the men. We took turns sleeping on wet concrete, side by side. After a month, the women and children were released with permission to go home. The men were either executed or trucked off to the jungle to work.
My mother and I regularly visited my father at the Minh Luong Prison and Labor Camp. We lodged with peasant families and stayed for weeks near the compound so she could watch him working in the field under guard. Hiding behind bushes, I watched him whenever I could find him. Like her, I felt that if I kept my eyes on him, stayed vigilant enough, bad things wouldn't happen. Some nights, she lay awake until dawn after hearing gunshots snap in the nearby woods, where they executed prisoners.
Two decades have thundered by since his imprisonment. Although we rarely talk beyond the safe grounds of current events, education, investment, and work, he has frequently shared his tales about the Viet Cong reeducation camp with me. The adventure stories he had told me as a boy on his knee were replaced by his death-camp saga. I believe it had something to do with my being his first son, with my having been there at the prison watching over him, witnessing what he thought were his death rites. In the years of telling, they became almost as much my stories as his. And this was strange, since my father and I have never shared much, never done father-and-son things, no camping trips, no fishing excursions; no ball games, no hot dogs in the park; no beers and Super Bowl on the tube. Still, the stories passed back and forth between us even when I had grown and moved away. My father, Pham Van Thong, was bequeathing his rarest pearls of wisdom, imparting a sense of value for life.
Of his last days in the death camp, Thong remembers the silence most. It was a thick creature that sat on his chest and lodged its fists in his throat. In the Viet Cong prison hut, he heard only his heart. Above, an indigo sky spilled light into the room, dyeing the gaunt faces of his fellows squatting on the dirt floor, fifty-four prisoners waiting for the execution call.
It came twice every week over the loudspeakers. Sometimes days passed between the calls, sometimes the calls came back-to-back.
Every evening just after they had scraped the last of the rice and the broth from their tins, silence fell as crickets wooed the coming night. The hut stank with fear and the food in their belly soured. Always, someone vomited.
He waded through his swamp of emotions. As the end neared when the indigo was deepest, two feelings remained. Sorrow for his wife, his children. Regret for a thousand things not done, a thousand things not said, a thousand things taken for granted.
His best friend in prison, Tuan, a helicopter pilot, edged close to him. Sitting on his hams, Tuan leaned over and whispered in his ear, "Thong, promise me."
He squeezed Tuan's shoulder. It was December 17, 1975. If they called his name tonight, Tuan would die and his promise would be worthless. Tuan believed the VC would release Thong in a few years. He would carry Tuan's last words to his wife and son. Thong didn't tell Tuan he believed that death was the only way out of Minh Luong Prison.
"You'll get out soon. Your wife's uncle is a VC colonel — a war hero."
"The bribes didn't work, Tuan. We're broke. Anh borrowed and sold everything we owned."
"No, she'll find a way. Anh is smart." Tuan had never met her.
The gloom obscured his friend's face, but Thong could pick out the hollow cheeks and the wild vacant eyes. Before Vietnam fell, Tuan was a handsome young officer with all the promise of a good military career. He was only twenty-eight. He was married to his high school sweetheart and they had a son. On nights when it was very cold and the prisoners huddled together for warmth, he would speak of her, the way she moved and intimate things. Things not meant for the ears of others, but in this place it was all he had. All that kept him going.
Tuan's quivering voice was rife with self-reproach. "I shouldn't have confessed that I was a pilot. I was scared. When they said the penalty for lying on the confession essay was execution, I lost my mind. I wrote down everything. I confessed everything. Everything I could remember."
"Thanh said I was honest. That's why she loves me. I shouldn't have written about my service in the air force."
He wanted to tell Tuan they wouldn't call tonight, wouldn't come for him, wouldn't punish him. But he didn't. It would have been a lie. He wanted to hear Tuan's voice because it might be the last time they talked. A dying man had the right to talk, Thong said, and they were all dying. If the executioner didn't kill them tonight, jungle diseases would kill them soon enough. Then there were the minefields, the hundreds of land mines they were forced to unearth and defuse with shovels. Death always came round, one way or another.
"You'll be all right," Tuan said, reassuring his friend even through his fear. "You're just a teacher. They don't punish teachers."
Tuan didn't know his secret. No one in the prison did.
"They'll let you go soon. You only violated martial law."
Excerpted from Catfish and Mandala by Andrew X. Pham. Copyright © 1999 Andrew X. Pham. Excerpted by permission of Picador and Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 - Exile – Pilgrim,
2 - Catfish-Dawn,
3 - Fallen – Leaves,
4 - Clan-Rift,
5 - Fallen – Leaves,
6 - Headwind – Tailspin,
7 - Japan-Dream,
8 - Last – Gamble,
9 - Mecca-Memory,
10 - Strange-Hearth,
11 - Fallen-Leaves,
12 - Divergent-Rhythm,
13 - Dying-Angels,
14 - Alley-World,
15 - Beggar-Grace,
16 - Fallen-Leaves,
17 - Hope-Adrift,
18 - Gift-Marriage,
19 - Jade-Giant,
20 - Fullcircle-Halflives,
21 - Baptizing-Buddha,
22 - Foreign-Asians,
23 - Milk-Mother,
24 - Chi-Daughter,
25 - Jungle-Station,
26 - Night-Wind,
27 - Fallen-Leaves,
28 - Hanoi-Visage,
29 - Patriot-Repose,
30 - Silence-Years,
31 - Blushing-Winter,
32 - Vietnamese-Karma,
33 - III-Wind,
34 - War-Survivors,
35 - Harlot-Heroine,
36 - Fallen-Leaves,
37 - Gaping-Fish,
38 - Chi-Minh,
39 - Fever-Ride,
40 - Fallen-Leaves,
41 - Coca-Cola,
42 - Brother-Brother,
43 - Father-Son,
44 - Viet-Kieu,
45 - Chi – Me,
46 - Blue-Peace,
Praise for Andrew X. Pham's - Catfish and Mandala,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
This is an incredible book, if not one of my favorites. It was given to me as a gift from a dear friend last year for Christmas, and then later assigned in my English class perhaps I was destined to read and comment the novel. Whatever the case, it is an incredible memoir, not only an insight into a man's search for his identity and soul, but into a journey so few of my own generation really know or can comprehend outside the history books. Simply, the work chronicles Phan's bicycle journey up and down the Vietnamese landscape. Highlighting his personal triumphs and family's demise, the memoir also parallels the face of contemporary Vietnam, with the strength of her culture but the division of her country. It is laced with Phan's struggle to understand himself just as it ponders the decisions Vietnam must make to survive, but at the end of it all, it is simply a story about strength and acknowledgement, about forgiveness and awareness, things all too familiar and prophetically universal. All too often my generation views Vietnam merely as our parents' 'homeland,' as our ethnicities that we can hardly trace the history of, as something we might check off on a box and join the organization on campus. But recognizing our ethnicity, our face, is more than just the obvious, as Phan finds out in the two-wheeled journey, that it is the very essence of who we are and how we make the certain decisions and life choices that others don't. The book is poetic in every sense of the word, graceful and brutally honest in its descriptions, and makes no apologies. It won't answer or heal anyone's wounds, but for me anyway, who could never before fathom the struggle my parents endured, it was a great insight into who we are. I'd recommend this anyday.
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!
I purchased this book in preparation for a trip to Vietnam. I ended up reading part of it during the trip. It was a very moving book. The experiences of his family exposed the Vietnam war in ways that I had never experienced. Reading explained some of the things that we saw, although the Vietnam we saw felt very different than the one he experienced. I would be interested in reading his view of Vietnam now almost 20 years after his original bike ride.
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.
This is the memoir of a man whose family left Vietnam on a leaky boat, spent time in an Indonesian detention camp, and arrived virtually penniless in America. The author describes his family as "dysfunctional" and apologizes for writing this book, which does indeed hang out the family's dirty linen. The book is as much about the family as it is about a voyage of self-discovery that the author, an engineering graduate, takes to Vietnam and elsewhere to acquaint himself with his roots. This journey is often times brutal and unpleasant reading. In Vietnam, he is regarded as a pariah and treated as such. He finds himself a foreigner-an American, actually-in his native country. I recommend this book as an insight into a nasty part of history and as a commentary as to what immigrants go through when arriving in the US.
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.
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.
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!
Catfish and Mandala is the best book that I have read this year . 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.