Sometimes a reader is privileged enough to read a book in which the words, sentences, and stories just wash over and envelop you, like a gentle beach wave. This is such a book. I enjoyed Pham's earlier "Catfish" so much that I awaited this latest book of family stories with great anticipation; and I was rewarded. Whether I read this on the subway, a bench, or at home, I was immediately transported to Vietnam, where Pham skillfully describes the villages and cities, the triumphs, pains, tastes, loves, corruptions, kindnesses, terrors and fears of his father's early life (or perhaps lives.) Along the way, I learned more about Vietnamese history and village life than I ever knew before. Pham orders the chapters so that the reader moves back and forth between the decades of his father's childhood and adulthood, all the while progressing to the point we all expect, the fall of Saigon to the VC.
As his grandmother taught, the eaves of heaven dealt good and bad in cycles. Devastating floods brought death but fertile harvests, childbirths brought the risks of a mother's death, and lovely days brought future storms. The lyrical sentences allow you to nearly taste the peach melba ice cream eaten during a courtship, but also let you live the terror of re-education and being pinned down by VC troops in a life or death firefight. The pure childhood enjoyment of eating treats and having cricket fights is a pleasure to read. But one will never again care for the fabled glory of the French Foreign Legion after finishing this book. I finished the final chapter just as NBC began to telecast the Miss Universe pageant from a colorful and cosmopolitan Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang, and all I could do is ponder the tribulations of this memoir and the amnesia of the telecast. Luckily this book captures a forgotten past with all the aspects that the eaves leave in shadows.