This story exploded inside my brain

It’s a long time since anything I have read has had such a powerful effect, where I have closed the book and just sat there saying “Oh my God!” This story did that.

Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice

My father arrived on a rainy morning. I was dreaming about a poem, the dull thluck thluck of a typewriter’s keys punching out the letters. It was a good poem–perhaps the best I’d ever written. When I woke up, he was standing outside my bedroom door, smiling ambiguously. He wore black trousers and a wet, wrinkled parachute jacket that looked like it had just been pulled out of a washing machine. Framed by the bedroom doorway, he appeared even smaller, gaunter, than I remembered. Still groggy with dream, I lifted my face toward the alarm clock.
"What time is it?"
"Hello, Son," he said in Vietnamese. "I knocked for a long time. Then the door just opened."
The fields are glass, I thought. Then tum-ti-ti, a dactyl, end line, then the words excuse and alloy in the line after. Come on, I thought…

The author is an Australian. Currently he is fiction editor of The Harvard Review. He was born in 1978 – his name: Nam Le.


Picture New York Times

Stories to Explore Someone Else’s Skin in the New York Times May 14, 2008:

The Boat (Oz cover) (small)…“I picked the dishes because they were so exotic sounding,” Mr. Le, 29, says, tucked into a corner table at this fancy Lincoln Center restaurant, which he featured in the story “Meeting Elise.” He is wearing a dark sport coat, bought that very afternoon for the occasion, and a dark shirt, altogether a somewhat more formal outfit than he usually wears.

He lifts a forkful to his mouth. “I’ll confess to you I didn’t know what panna cotta was,” he says, his Australian accent stretching out each vowel like Silly Putty. He tastes. “It’s quite good.”

“The Boat” is Mr. Le’s first book, but it is already receiving the kind of praise usually reserved for far more accomplished writers. In The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani wrote, “Mr. Le not only writes with an authority and poise rare even among veteran authors, but he also demonstrates an intuitive, gut-level ability to convey the psychological conflicts people experience when they find their own hopes and ambitions slamming up against familial expectations or the brute facts of history.”

The seven stories display an amazing confidence and range for so young an author, moving from a religious festival in Tehran to the days before an atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima to the cardboard shantytowns of Colombia where 14-year-old boys yearn to get “an office job,” slang for work as a hired assassin.

Surrounding these imagined worlds, like bookends, are two stories that draw on details from Mr. Le’s own life. The first, “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice,” features a young Vietnamese writer named Nam, who leaves his job as a lawyer in Melbourne, Australia, to attend the Iowa Writers’ Workshop; he has an American girlfriend and a folder full of stories that depict children in Hiroshima, Colombian assassins and a New York painter who dines at Picholine.

The last story, “The Boat,” describes a dire 13-day journey from Vietnam to a Malaysian camp, an experience not that different from one that Mr. Le, just a few months old, and his family went through after joining the legions of refugees trying to escape the Communist regime in 1979.

“One of the chief ambitions of the story was to play with that idea of what we consider to be authentic, how much autobiography is implied or assumed, how we read something differently if we think it’s been drawn from the author’s life,” Mr. Le said of “Love and Honor.”…

Nicholas Jose, 5 August 2009:

"These complex self-reflexivities of the migrant father-aspirational son drama are brilliantly shaped here into a study of how one culture layers into another, pushed down and then reasserting itself in an endless cycles, with language playing a crucial role as slippery agent of transmission and translation. The son’s prodigious skill in English is undercut by the necessity of speaking to his father in Vietnamese, where they become timeless Ba and Child: ‘It felt strange, after all this time, to be speaking Vietnamese again.’ Yet language is what the son does and is, even to giving an Australian nuance to this classically American story of generational displacement and accommodation: ‘I was a lawyer and I was no lawyer … holding a flat white in a white cup,’ Nam says. (Note the localised coffee descriptor.) ‘That’s all I’ve ever done, traffic in words.’

A triumphant virtuosity makes this story, "Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice," both ethnic lit and art. The famous silently snow-falling ending of James Joyce’s story "The Dead" is summoned by the opening paragraphs — ‘The sound of rain filled the room —rain fell on the streets, on the roofs, on the tin shed across the parking lot’ — and the ghosts of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Cheever and Carver are summoned in this doubling text. Yet within lies a deeper, tougher truth about what drives people on to survive as refugees or make it as writers: the craving for life that impels all change, which the father utters and the son translates, ‘How far does an empty stomach drag you?’

Le’s story turns the dilemmas of Asian Australian writerly positioning into crystalline art with a strong emotional undercurrent."

For more see the author’s site.


Nam Le 2010 – Wikipedia

Just make sure you read this book.smiley-happy005smiley-happy005[4]smiley-happy005[6]smiley-happy005[8]smiley-happy005[10]