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30 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2007
Overall, this book is well written and has its good moments. As a Vietnamese who came to America at the same time frame and age as the writer, I can't help but to dislike the writer as I read the book.

First of all, I think the writer has a condescending view toward Vietnam and the people. He tries too hard to describe the negatives while not trying to even understand the reason for the state of the country and the people. I feel that the writer sensationalizes, even bordeline fictionalize, his story to appease to the readers. In the book, the author tried to describe the character Kim as a victim of the society, yet, he goes on to use her and skip town so he wouldn't have to face her. He paints such a negative picture of everyone that he met on the road. I wonder why he even took this trip. This author is the reason why Vietnamese Americans are so dislike in Vietnam. The author came back to the country without any knowledge nor understanding, and sadly, all he can do is whined.

I'm two years older than the author and came to United States when I was nine. What the author faced is not unlike any other Vietnamese refugees' story. I wonder about some facts and timeline in the author's recollection of his childhood. Base on the events that were stated, the author must have a photographic memory at such a young age. Some of his memories were a bit far fetched. One has to wonder if the memories were really his or a collection of someone else's memories.

As far as the difficulties in a new country, GET OVER IT!!! Every Vietnamese had to endure the similar situations. My father was a high ranking government official and he too had to work as a janitor. My mother who was a teacher, had to work on a assembly line making seat belts. I grew up in Fresno picking oranges and tomatoes. My wife escaped Vietnam by herself at the age of 16. We all survived and thrived on our experiences. There were many, many more Vietnamese who endured much worse fate than Mr. Pham. I find the author's self-indulgent story annoying by the end of the book.

Overall, I think the author tries a bit too hard writing about himself and forget the real victims, his motherland and the Vietnamese people. As much as the author wants to convey of his noble character, I find his views lack of empathy and understanding for Vietnam. I happen to be very proud of my roots and appreciate all that Vietnam has to offered, even with all of its imperfections. Sadly, Mr. Pham reflects many Vietnamese Americans that have turned their back on their roots. I'm proud that I was born in Vietnam and will be proud of my heritage everyday.
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18 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on March 11, 2002
Being a Vietnamese-American who has taught and lived in post-1975 Vietnam, I was expecting a lot when I picked this book up from a sidewalk book vendor in Saigon a few years ago. What can I say? Pham blows it. There are no Vietnamese characters of any depth in this memoir, but, as the memoir field and the market seems to dictate nowadays, seems to be a literary excuse for the writer to exorcise personal demons while maintaining a pretense towards art. As far as memoirs go, this is one of the most self-indulgent ones I have yet to read. This memoir works in the sense that Pham is the ideal of everything I dislike about certain Vietnamese-Americans; vain at the expense of other's self dignity, easy to complain while lacking the sensitivity to make even the smallest concessions, and self-important to the point of not even realizing that his admission of his conceit is an acceptance only in words. The pretty things Pham tries to say in this book, the lush descriptions and mild poesy, is just fluff. His actions speak louder than words. He paints shallow caricatures of just about everyone he meets on the road, from his one paragraph descriptions of his ... buddies in Saigon (whom we never get to know, though they seem the most interesting characters in the book), to every soldier he meets on the road, to even the bar girl Kim, who Pham ends up using (in a literary sense, though I'm sure he had his fun) as some sort of convenient stereotypical "mail-order bride" love interest. There are some fine sentences and descriptions in this work, but as a whole, he whines far too much. There were points in the story when I was just begging Pham to argue the point, make the connection, but he always failed to create the subtext, and it all eventually came off as a shallow representation of a complex country and people. Perhaps that was his point, to contrast his own lack of understanding and empathy for Vietnam, caught as he is between two worlds. But if that is the case, he doesn't help himself as an author, because he then forces the reader to look elsewhere for the true story. In the end, after his buddy Cuong awakens him to his own lack of awareness about his straddling of two cultures, Pham throws it away, using it as he does everything else in this book to "save face." He always retains his nobility of character. What a bunch of [stuff]. He tries a little too hard, the model "model-minority." A good writer integrates the landscape and memory in a way that gives them significance rivaling that of his most real characters (I'm sorry, but the last couple of chapters end up being typical memoir mush - superfluous, self-gratifying reflection), but as he has nothing beyond paper cut outs for people in this book, and his questions of self-identity have been plumbed and written about much more eloquently and profoundly by many other Asian-American authors, "Catfish and Mandala" seems a prostitution of ideas. It is good that Vietnamese-Americans of his generation are writing, and Pham seems to have stylistic talents that could make for much better literature if he can eventually learn an artistic sensibility not based on topical pandering and exoticism. We're still waiting for the first great Vietnamese-American author. And please, no more memoirs!
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2014
Started the book because it was recommended by a blog or something. The premise was very interesting but I quickly lost interest. Powered through to the end because I never not finish a book once I start on it. It's a hard read, let me tell you.

Two problems with the book. First, the author is not likable. As other reviewers have mentioned, he's a whiner. Though he grew up in Vietnam and in the book kept on going back to his family's stories, he was essentially a clueless "American" traveling in a poor country and constantly complaining about the place and its people being horrible because he didn't care to really understand them or comprehend he's getting what he paid for. It reads like a superficial travelogue that reveals more of the author's ignorance and lack of empathy, despite his language skills.

Second, the writing is poor. The intercutting between different storylines and different voices feel forced. The writing itself is choppy, some good moments mixed in with too many unwarranted details going nowhere. Sometimes one has the impression that the author is simply filling in all that he remembered from his trip with no clear purpose in mind.

Essentially, this is a book about "me having a hard life as a Vietnamese American, me going back to Vietnam not knowing what I'm looking for, me telling you a lot of stuff about my trip and my family, me meeting tons of horrible Vietnamese, me finally realizing America is great so me comes back." There you have it.
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4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 19, 2011
I've traveled to Vietnam numerous time since 1991, and I have experience the transformation of the country since. In this book, I appreciate the courage of Pham traveling from HCMC to Hanoi by bicycle, however through his endeavor of his home experiences post Vietnam War, I feel that he belittle his culture. He writes about his plight encounters of staying in cheap "inns", but then what do you expect when you are only playing 5USD a night? He also complains about his ills of the food he ate that causes him to go to the toilet, and again, what do you expect when you are eating street food along the road side that is perhaps unsanitary. I wish he would just pay for a decent lodging and eat at decent restaurants and convey more of his experiences based on the culture of the Vietnamese people post the Vietnam War, rather than constant whining of how dirty and poor the country is.

Overall, I thought the book was not interesting and it's what I expected from a "Viet Kieu" writer.
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11 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2004
The book, over all, is a disappointment. It has a very condescending tone and attitude towards Viet Nam and its people. Granted that it is the author's experience in VN, but he writes it with an American audience in mind, so in the end, he is willing to trash his birth country to let his audience know that his true home is still America. He compares VN to a prostitute on a few occasions, and similar to how a hooker is abandoned after she is used, he, too, abandons (metaphorically as well as literally) VN after it provides him with the necessary backdrop for and backbone of his book. The book, if read in bits and pieces, can be interesting, but beyond that it lacks a persuasive sincerity .
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0 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2011
I just don't get it. This book was loaned to me. I went to accept the loan, and a message comes up that the book is "not available to customers in the U.S."

Why then, can this "U.S. customer" sample the book, and even BUY the book, but cannot accept this book being loaned to me? The kindle version is listed as "LENDING ENABLED" period. I would like to be able to receive this book on loan as advertised by Amazon. If it is not available to loan to "certain customers" this should be listed in the description. Amazon needs to fix this.
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1 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on December 6, 2001
I liked this book but it could have been a little shorter and more interesting. I'm in the 8th grade and i don't read a lot but i liked this book.
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9 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2004
I don't know this guy but they certainly were not the only Asians in Shreveport, Louisiana nor were they the first Vietnamese there. There were Chinese families there since the 1920's that I know of and there were several Vietnamese familes that came over in 1975. If he came over when he was 10 it would have been 1977...over 50 years since some Chinese families and restaurants had been in town. I know, I was there. Even today you can find several of the old families still there although only a handful have restaurants now. Their kids have gone on to become Doctors, Lawyers, CEOs of Companies and Entrepreneurs as well as Policemen, Firemen and serving in the military.
Growing up as an Asian in the South during that time period wasn't as dramatic as he made it sound in his book. He came after the Chinese had settled the town and won the respect of the community. For example, there was one chinese businessman in town who was very involved in politics in the 1960's and did wonders for the Chinese community along the way of paving the road to acceptance. The church he mentions that sponsored him was the church of the the elite in town and that included several millionaires. These people were educated and had a lot of class.
After I read that part I started to question how much was fiction. Vietnamese soldier earning the Green Beret of the US Army??? Hmm, I just don't know about this guy.
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4 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2003
I found this book disappointing. The author was unlikeable. It is an autobiography, but I could care less about Pham's personal stories. Although it did get somewhat better towards the end, overall, it was very slow.
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