A mesmerizing novel about estranged sisters and the cultural and family history that binds them
Van and Linny Luong are as baffling to each other as their parents' Vietnamese legacy is to them both. Van, the quintessential overachiever, has applied the same studied diligence to her law career and marriage-a beau idéal that vaporized when Mr. Right walked out. Linny-pretty, fashionable, untethered-is grasping for purpose when her affair with a married man takes a humiliating turn. Each is the last person her sister would call, but when Mr. Luong summons them home for his American citizenship party, Van and Linny find themselves communing about their past-their late mother, their father's obsession with his Luong Arm invention, even the irony of their romantic straits. As these unlikely confidantes chart the uncertainty that defines them, they forge a tentative new relationship and the wherewithal to overcome disappointment.
Hailed by the Chicago Tribune as "a writer to watch, a tremendous talent," Nguyen recasts her gifts marvelously in this first novel, infusing it with humor, compassion, and insight into siblings, aging parents, and the desires and ambitions that drive us.
Memoirist Nguyen's debut novel traces the quiet estrangement of the Luong sisters, second-generation Vietnam-ese-American women whose personal lives are falling apart but who put on a brave face for the family. When their father calls them home to Michigan to take charge of his citizenship party, the sisters discover each other as adults for the first time. The casting seems felicitous: Alice Kennedy is also the daughter of South Vietnamese immigrants, lives in Grand Rapids, and nails the nasal Michigan accent. But she falls flat in creating specific voices; all the char-acters-the firecracker Linny, the cautious Van and their infuriatingly stubborn father-sounds the same. Since the novel does not always identify who is speaking, it can be difficult for listeners to follow which character is saying what in conversation. Although Kennedy's performance has strong inflection and emotion, the nuances of Nguyen's subtle character study get lost in translation. A Viking hardcover (Reviews, Mar. 16 ).
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