In brief

16th January 2004 at 00:00
THE GANGSTER WE ARE ALL LOOKING FOR. By Le Thi Diem Thuy. Picador pound;12.99

This is an elegant, touching memoir by a Vietnamese-American writer and performance artist of a childhood spent with one or other parent missing, even when they were both in the same room. ThNoy Le's father was largely absent during her early years in South Vietnam (he was an American-trained elite soldier, but his in-laws called him a "Buddhist gangster"), but only she and he succeeded in leaving by boat after the takeover by North Vietnam.

Aged six when they arrived in California with four "uncles" (fellow refugees who had shared their boat) in 1978, ThNoy listened to her father weeping every night and begged for trips to the beach, where she believed her mother would be waiting. Miraculously, the family was reunited but both parents had severe emotional problems and their daughter ran away at 16, conscious that she could not replace what had been lost somewhere in the South China Sea. She refers to "people who, feeling that they have no recourse to change the circumstances of their own lives, fold down, crumble into the shadows".

This, her first book, has been compared to Art Spiegelman's Maus in its attempts to understand and reflect a previous generation's suffering.

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