The Reeducation of Cherry Truong by Aimee Phan is a rather epic novel that spans the journeys, physical and emotional, of two related Vietnamese families from the early 1970's to 2001. Cherry is an American born young woman taking time from her college studies to visit her older brother Lum in Saigon. Lum is doing well in a rapidly growing construction business, but the choice to live with distant relatives there was not his. He was sent away in disgrace five years ago by his family in Orange County, CA.
From this opening information begins a narrative of Vietnamese emigration that begins in refugee camps in Malaysia and follows the paths of Cherry and Lum's parents and grandparents after the fall of Saigon. Cherry's family found their way to Westminster, California. Another branch of the family, the Vo's relocated in Paris, France, some later making their way to Tustin, CA. And some of the family remained in Vietnam.
The story is spun out slowly in present times and past, each chapter opening with a family letter that reveals a bit more. Phan offers insight into her culture and the history of families fleeing from war, and making their way in new countries. There are no stereotypes here, but there are images: families in Westminster opening a hair and nail salon to have their own business rather than struggling with menial jobs; grandparents demanding tradition and perfection, young adult children of immigrants trying ways from obedient to wild, parents striving for a dream of a home and an education for their children and all finding their place balancing two cultures.
For the youngest members of the family who have no memory of the war, learning about their family doing what they did to survive with dark secrets abounding is both difficult and clarifying. For those of us reading the novel, we have a gift of cultural and historical insight.
Aimee Phan is the award winning author of We Should Never Meet, another novel linking stories of Saigon before the fall and "Little Saigon" as we know it now. Her website can be found here. There are currently copies of both books available at the library.