Monkey Bridge

Monkey Bridge

by Lan Cao


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Hailed by critics and writers as powerful, important fiction, Monkey Bridge charts the unmapped territory of the Vietnamese American experience in the aftermath of war.

Like navigating a monkey bridge—a bridge, built of spindly bamboo, used by peasants for centuries—the narrative traverses perilously between worlds past and present, East and West, in telling two interlocking stories: one, the Vietnamese version of the classic immigrant experience in America, told by a young girl; and the second, a dark tale of betrayal, political intrigue, family secrets, and revenge—her mother's tale. The haunting and beautiful terrain of Monkey Bridge is the "luminous motion," as it is called in Vietnamese myth and legend, between generations, encompassing Vietnamese lore, history, and dreams of the past as well as of the future.

"With incredible lightness, balance and elegance," writes Isabel Allende, "Lan Cao crosses over an abyss of pain, loss, separation and exile, connecting on one level the opposite realities of Vietnam and North America, and on a deeper level the realities of the material world and the world of the spirits."

   • Quality Paperback Book Club Selection and New Voices Award nominee
   • A Kiriyama Pacific Rim Award Book Prize nominee

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780140263619
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/01/1998
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 216,818
Product dimensions: 5.07(w) x 7.74(h) x 0.47(d)
Lexile: 1210L (what's this?)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Lan Cao is a professor of international law at Brooklyn Law School and resides in New York City.

Customer Reviews

Monkey Bridge 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Luong More than 1 year ago
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".
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
teaperson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An interesting novel (semi-autobiographical?) tracing a young woman's trying to understand her own life, and especially her mother's, after the end of the Vietnam War brings them to America. The revelation of the truth at the end is a bit wooden. There's also a lot of explanation of the background color, which doesn't necessarily help the plot along, but does add to the interest of the book.
mnlohman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Girl escapes Saigon in 1975 to be reunited with her mother in Falls Church, Virginia. Beautifully written account of old life and traditions and the immigrant experience.
narwhaltortellini on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the story of Mai, who immigrates to America after the war, and her mother who follows some time after. Mai, being younger, takes on the American language and culture more completely than her mother, who in Vietnam seemed a stronger, more capable and intelligent woman, but in America seems to become foggy and troubled.After a stroke, Mai's mother's mental state seems to deteriorate further, and Mai hears her calling for Baba Quan, her mother's father who was left behind in Vietnam. This causes Mai to begin a search for a way to bring Baba Quan to America so that he may ease her mother's heart and allow Mai to leave home for college. The story explores the past and relationship of the two, the trauma they suffered in Vietnam, the clash between Mai's world of American schooling and science and her mother's of curses and karma, and their desire to care for one another and yet their need to push the other away.I pretty much read this book twice for school. The first time I had a more favorable impression, but I think that may have stemmed from having a Vietnamese mother myself and some things in it being amusingly familiar. The second time through, it seemed a more average read. Also, the book's conclusion, though I predicted it very early on, felt as if it came rather out of left-field build-up wise, and was also a bit unsatisfying. As I read it the second time I think it just stressed that even more, as I was able to watch and see the build to it...or rather notice the semi-lack thereof.Usually I'd rate a book on the first impression, but I think the second was really more representative of the actual quality of the book. It's still alright, though.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.