Friday, June 16, 2017

Catfish and Mandala

This is an Asian-American's travel narrative and immigrant memoir, Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam by Andrew X. Pham. In this account his 1996 bicycle tour of Vietnam, he sometimes sounds like any new  American who has gone back to the old country and is treated so shabbily by merchants, beggars, and bribe-hungry cops that you can’t blame him for concluding the place is stuffed with people screaming Me me me. The drunken mobs of thugs and soldiers are frightening too. But he also tells of interesting conversations that reveal the uneasy relations between those who had to escape the country in fear for their freedom and lives and those who had to stay. The other third of the book tells about his family’s tough life in the US from Louisiana and to the Santa Clara Valley. I recommend this unique book for those into both travel narratives (the food descriptions are wonderful) and immigrant memoirs. This would be appropriate assigned reading in American Pluralism courses.

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