Read excerpts from a Place of Forgetting
Those School Day Dreams (1985)
The Visiting Room (1994)
A Father’s Pride (1992)
Leaving San Jose (1992)
Joy Ride (1992)
New Year’s Day, 1994
Terra Cotta Cooking Pot
This is a story of my life. I grew up poor in post-war Vietnam with a father who served the Democratic Vietnamese military and then spent two years in concentration camp and a mother who suffered from mental illness.
What makes my story different from others? It’s different because though I am from a culture that imprisons its members with family secrets and duties, I’m willing to say aloud the things that need to be said aloud.
This is the story of my parents’ prisons, their places of forgetting: the place of existence where my father lost his power, money and position, where he found himself no longer important or relevant; the place where my mother’s loss of face, of freedom and security plunge her into madness. This is also the story of my own place of forgetting: the place of existence where the younger version of me scrubbed her skin raw because she wanted be white, who spent hours practicing a phrase just to say something without an accent.
A place of forgetting is a secret cell where a person is imprisoned, a crawl space in the mind where we trap ourselves. I plan to give you, the reader, full access to these secret cells not through a conventional linear narrative but through reliving memory-triggered events. As one memory bleeds into another with disregard for time and space, you will be expected to remain actively involved in the act of reading.
You will be transported to the jungle of North Vietnam during wartime, post-war in the Mekong Delta, California in the 1980s when a large wave of Vietnamese immigrants arrived in San Francisco and San Jose, and into my family’s living room and our bedrooms.
Though you will feel disoriented by the time leaps, the fragmented narrative is designed to mimic my mother’s madness and the confusion she causes around her. The disruptions of events also echo the disruptions in our lives as the result of having been transplanted, allowing an intimate look into a dynamics of my family and the way we deal with social class, cultural expectations, old and new traditions, assimilation, and ultimately, our immigrant experience.
This blog will only contain the main character Summer Lang’s recollections, but in the full novel, you will also encounter the same event from multiple points of view and voices, peeking into the minds of the my mother and the many voices she speaks to, into my father’s journals and secret fears and into my own fractured sense of self, resulting from having to straddle multiple worlds. You will see a thing from all angles and you will have to make up your own mind about the truth.
It is my hope that this novel, once finished, will contribution to the history of a large group of immigrants whose voice is not yet well represented in American literature. For I truly believe that history can only be understood by studying how it has impacted the individuals.