This powerful narrative, winner of the 1993 Associated Writing Programs award for the novel, focuses on Galveston, Texas, and a community of newly arrived Vietnamese. Struggling to maintain a balance between Vietnam and America, they live with one foot in each world. Close-knit families, now fragmented, dream of the "kingdom of elders left behind"; young girls shoulder responsibility far beyond their years; and homesick professionals, puzzled by American customs, strive to belong while clinging to the rituals that sustain them. Seared by memories of escape and loss, these people are tough and funny too. There's Trang, obsessed by her mixed parentage and the quest for her American father; spunky little Xan, who acts out with Kung Fu; Linh, whose mother is hospitalized because of "the ghost husband in her head"; and Dr. Nguyen, savvy first-year medical resident but still a stranger. As this deeply felt novel examines the difficulties and possibilities for connection in a tri-racial culture - Vietnamese, Black, and American - it brims with memorable characters finding their way or easing the way for others. Mary Gardner reminds us of our history: America itself is a country of boat people with ties to more than one world.
Vietnamese immigrants struggle with the burdens of faraway loved ones, unfamiliar customs and the scars of their flight from home in this evocative novel set in Galveston, Tex. Hai Truong is possessed by a spirit, a ``ghost husband'' who will not let her sleep or eat. While she is hospitalized, her daughter, Linh Nguyen, takes on adult responsibilities for her father, a fisherman, and her two younger siblings, even as she works to excel in school. Meanwhile, Linh's older girlfriend, Trang Luu, living with an aunt and uncle who blame her for their son's death, and troubled by the mystery of her unknown, American father, manages to succeed academically and be recruited by a private Catholic school; she also develops a crush on Lang Nguyen, an intern at the local hospital who, despite his accomplishments, remains bewildered by the American way of life. Gardner (Milkweed; Keeping Warm), who compares the struggle of Vietnamese immigrants to that of African Americans, fills her story with atmospheric details of Vietnamese culture and tradition, at the same time illuminating the uneasy ethnic mix of Galveston's lower-class community. Some readers may tire of the brief staccato sentences meant to convey her characters' disjointed lives and their lack of familiarity with the English language, but Gardner succeeds in communicating the bewilderment and anguish that at times overwhelm people torn from their cultural heritage and forced to struggle in a hostile environment. (Mar.)