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Birds of Paradise Lost Paperback – March 1, 2013
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“Andrew Lam’s Birds of Paradise Lost brilliantly engages the fundamental theme of much great literary work: who am I and what is my place in the universe? His stories are elegant and humane and funny and sad. Lam has instantly established himself as one of our finest fiction writers.”
“Andrew Lam’s exacting delivery is matched only by his mesmerizing story; and in this collection of tales, both raw and oneiric, is a majestic credo.”
“I’ve been reading Andrew Lam’s work since he was a budding journalist nearly two decades ago. Lam is a sharp writer with wit, charm, and wisdom.”
“After reading Birds of Paradise Lost, it feels as if one has been to the opera. This is a work drenched in color and music, sorrow and beauty. The intensity of emotion conveyed in these pages is stunning. A bravura performance.”
“While Andrew Lam’s characters share a broader history, each story is an entire world that Lam animates fully with remarkably spare strokes. What these stories have in common is the intelligence behind them, which is at once fierce, compassionate, and wonderfully perverse. Each story pleases and surprises, and the collection as a whole resonates long after the reading is done.”
“Andrew Lam is one of a handful of writers who are truly necessary to the emotional and intellectual health of American culture today. Whether exploring the contemporary political ironies of the streets, the fates of individual victims of war, or the indefinable tenderness between lovers, his stories show us truth we may have turned away from or never recognized. Lam’s stories go deep and stay with you a long time.”
“These poignant, sometimes humorous, often heart-rending stories gift us with the voices and faces of the Vietnamese-American community: a community that has finally been able to express itself through the fiction of a new generation of writers such as Andrew Lam. Yet this is also fiction which in its universal and human truths pulls off the delicate trick of both including and transcending the ethnic genre and firmly situates Lam among the best writers of American—and world—literature.”
“When I grow up, I want to be Andrew Lam. I want to write with a kind of voice that is both charming and full of sadness and humour. Mr. Lam is an important writer, providing a unique lens into American life. Yes, someday, I would like to be Andrew Lam.”
—Angie Chau, author of Quiet As They Come
“Whatever happened to the Vietnamese ‘boat people’ who escaped after the fall of Saigon? ‘A lot’ is the simple answer; for a complicated, often scabrously funny account, read Andrew Lam’s stories. They are so American, so unexpected, so nuanced and robust, that you will be informed, charmed, and deeply moved.”
—Howard Junker, Editor Emeritus, Zyzzyva
“The 13 stories in Andrew Lam's Birds of Paradise Lost soar like birds in mid-flight, bridging the space between the dreamscape of Vietnam and the glass and steel of "Gold Mountain"”
—Thuy Dinh, Shelf Awareness
“Lam crystallizes the tension of immigration—the pull between wanting to hold onto the old world while needing to accept the strangeness of the new—with sensitivity, beauty, and yet with a welcome lack of sentimentality or bathos.”
—NinaSankovitch, Huffington Post
"Several decades have passed since harrowing and miraculous tales of 'boat people' splashed across the headlines. In the eclectic and engrossing collection of short stories by Andrew Lam, readers are bound to rediscover a profound sense of awe at the vastness of such journeys, both literal and metaphorical, from Vietnam to America."
—Elizabeth Rosner, The San Francisco Chronicle
"One of Lam’s greatest gifts is his ventriloquist-like ability to get inside each narrator’s skin. Just as Lam connects with and penetrates each persona, so too each persona achieves a moment that bridges or leaps the gap between our two cultures, forever wedded by the tragic war."
—Randy Fertel, Kenyon Review
"The past, in other words, reappears in unpredictable ways, especially for those who think they can simply “move beyond” the nightmares of war and exodus. In Birds of Paradise Lost, the language of trauma is translated by the day-to-day heartbreak of surviving... the true immigrant narrative is not about turning rags into riches; it’s about fending off the ghosts of war."
—The Los Angeles Review of Books
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Andrew Lam is a good writer, at least much better than many other well-known writers. But a good writer is not necessarily a good story teller. Lam writes well. But a good story teller? No, definitely not.
The sad part of Birds of Paradise Lost is that Lam picked the right topics. He had the right materials. At least to the 1.5 generation of us, those Vietnamese-Americans who have only vague images of the war, of the communists, of the crowded boats in the sea, of the refugee camps, have heard all the horrible stories about Vietnam from our parents or grandparents, but still cannot understand why those former ARVN soldiers, grey-haired and ugly fat, proud in their military uniforms, salute solemnly the flag with three red stripes on yellow background in every Chinese New Year festival celebrated in America. Lam had the stories of the past and the present. The clash between the immigrant generations in a new land. The atrocities in the war. The cultural differences. The Asian pride. The sorrows. The regrets. He had all the right materials. And he delivered them all wrong.
I don't mind the gay life and love. The description of weird sex instruments. The cussings. The miserable life of a palmist boat person in America. The surreal death of a grandmother and her re-birth. The cannibal experience of the boat people. The revenge plot of a woman whose peasant husband had been killed by an American GI in Vietnam during the war. The self-immolation of a fervent anti-communist Vietnamese newspaper editor and publisher. The mother who demands absolute filial duties from her children. The successes of the younger immigrants as cardiologists, business owners, Ivy Leagues students, real estate agents. The horrible experience of a man having Tourette's Syndrome who dropped his wife and daughter when climbing up the helicopter rescuing them on the top of a building as captured in the famous photograph in the last days of Saigon. I don't mind at all. In fact, these extreme incidents, though most likely out of sheer imagination, can actually convey powerful images of the haunting past.
But extreme incidents need extreme endings. You don't tell a story about cannibalism without leading to an equally, or more, dramatic ending. A good story teller knows how to use a powerful device to create a compelling impact. Lam resorted to an extremely rare incident, perhaps non-existent and even a blatant lie, for no reason. His ending is flat. No emotion. No lessons. It's like he is killing a bird with a huge cannon. The same thing can be said about the American GI killing an innocent Vietnamese peasant, the self-immolation of an anti-communist publisher, the man dropping his wife and daughter from a rescuing helicopter. For what? If Lam wants to convey a message through metaphorical images, I don't get the message and I don't see the effect of the metaphors either. Like Nam Le in The Boat with the My Lai story, Lam uses extreme incidents for no reason other than exposing the extremities of war, sufferings, sorrows in a contriving and exploitative manner.
On top of this, Lam's narrative is unnecessarily exhaustive and strangely superficial. He tries too hard and too little. In some, he fills his stories with views from all possible angles. Causes and consequences. Flashbacks and dreams. Layers of polished sentences describing simple scenes or thoughts. He should have stopped at the right moment. Instead, Lam went on and on as if he were afraid his readers wouldn't get it. In some, he leaves me with a "huh?" feeling. The rich images serve no purposes. The so-called razor-tongued prose loses its power. The snappy exchange of words becomes empty. It's like a powerful train suddenly losing its power and stopping without warning.
I can't have any more thoughts on these thirteen stories after reading them. Lam has said all and hasn't said anything. Too much and too little. He either doesn't leave me anything to think about or leaves me too much to think about. I spent two days reading his stories. And I will forget them soon. His writing technicalities, however, deserve a three-star rating.
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If you're buying this book in Kindle form for a literature class BEWARE I guess...Read more