This is definitely not the case with Aimee Phan's The Reeducation of Cherry Truong. That's why my friend Grace of HapaMamaGrace recommended this book to me. It's definitely not a coming of age novel. Also a bonus, the main character's last name isn't Nguyen, the most common surname in Vietnamese.
On the surface, Cherry Truong is the perfect Vietnamese American daughter. Recently accepted into UC Irvine's medical school, Cherry surprises her family with news that she wants to visit her exile brother in Vietnam for the summer, instead of going on a Hawaiian vacation with her cousins. Cherry is convinced she can bring her brother Lum back home to Little Saigon, California. Lum, now a successful businessman, has settled in Vo side of the family. Cherry gets more than she bargains for as pieces together her family's past in Vietnam to discover the beginnings of the feud between the Truongs and the Vos.
As a first generation Vietnamese American, I could relate to Cherry. I grew up with the same family pressure to be a good student and to be come a doctor/lawyer/engineer/computer geek. Unlike Cherry, I didn't become any of those professions. Cherry grew up in a large extended family, surrounded by lots of cousins, and spearheaded by the matriarch, her grandmother. In our family, my great-grandmother was the matriarch.
Cherry's parents (and grandparents) immigrated from Vietnam soon after the Fall of Saigon in 1975. Before being placed in Little Saigon, California (the Truongs) and Paris, France (the Vos), both families lived on a refugee island in Malaysia. My mother's family spent time, perhaps, on this very refugee island before they were sponsored by a family in Kentucky.
Both of my parents speak very little about their time as refugees. I remember asking my parents about their experiences before they came to the United States. To this day, except for minor references, my parents don't talk about it. I got a glimpse of what it might have been like for them through Phan's writing. I understand even more why my parents don't like talking about it.
Perhaps my family doesn't have as many secrets as Cherry's family. Perhaps there are. Reading The Reeducation of Cherry Truong felt intimate. Cherry's family could easily have been my family. As a child I overheard many disputes and arguments between my family members. As a child, I didn't understand them. Then again, every family has secrets.
Add The Reeducation of Cherry Truong to your reading list. The novel isn't just for Vietnamese Americans or Asian Americans. Cherry's desire to learn and understand her family's history is universal, and Aimee Phan's readers will relate to that.
I received a copy of the book for review. Affiliate links contained in this post.