Not Fade Away

The terrible legacies of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq include compounding the terrible legacy of our war in Vietnam. Add to that the disadvantage of the memory loss that comes with a generation gap — as if all the souls displaced by that horror hadn’t fallen through enough of history’s cracks already. But some reassurance may be had from Angie Chau, a young writer still willing to keep collective memories from fading. She was born in Saigon, but now lives in the Bay Area. As you might expect, she has stories. And now they’ve been gathered in Quiet as They Come, her first book. The premise is simple and familiar: An extended Vietnamese family, newly arrived in San Francisco after the Vietnam War, endures the varied consequences of compulsory immigration. Happily ever after this is not. Consider the patriarch, formerly a philosophy professor and now a lowly postal clerk: “He once heard a co-worker describe him by saying he was as ‘quiet as they come,’” Chau writes, “the quietest of all, practically invisible.” For him, “it seemed to belittle the human spirit, to always be grateful that things could be worse.” Yet she never forecloses the hope of real reconciliation. In one tense moment, just when more violence seems imminent, somebody gets a much-needed hug. How disarming to imagine the legacy of that.
Tue., Sept. 14, 7 p.m., 2010

 
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