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Short Girls: A Novel Hardcover – July 23, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
The enigmatic first novel from memoirist Nguyen (Stealing Buddha's Dinner) is a detailed character study of second-generation sisters who find themselves more anchored by their Vietnamese heritage than they had realized. Van and Linny Luong, estranged since their childhood in a suburb of Grand Rapids, Mich., return home for their father's American citizenship ceremony. Van, a lifelong goodie-goodie, finds herself abandoned by her husband, while Linny, Van's polar opposite, leaves her married lover once she discovers how he feels about her. Their father, a reluctant tile worker but enthusiastic inventor of devices to improve the lives of short people, provides a perfect diversion for his daughters—he needs them to come with him to Detroit to audition for a TV show. When the audition doesn't go as planned and family secrets start to come out, Linny, Van and Mr. Luong all get a chance to set aside their past failures and find a way to remake themselves. Though not all of the ideas put into play about immigration and immigrant life work themselves out, Nguyen's novel is clever and lively, a fine update to a familiar setup. (July)
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From Bookmarks Magazine
Family squabbles and generational conflicts are common themes in Asian American literature. However, most critics felt Nguyen's sense of place (she grew up in Michigan and knows her terrain), as well as her ability to keep the story moving forward even as the narrative hopscotched through time, elevated the work. Several critics noted the novelty of reading about Asian Americans living outside San Francisco or New York. Still, some reviewers felt that everyday details at times bogged down the narrative and that the believability of the characters varied. Despite these complaints, most critics considered Short Girls a very funny, and occasionally sad, exploration of Asian American family dynamics.
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Within these pages, Van and Linny struggle to "make equalness happen." Van escapes from her home through overachieving: she works hard to achieve both at University of Michigan law school, in her ensuing career as a immigration lawyer, and in her young marriage to a well-esconced Chinese American man named Miles. Failure is simply not allowed. Linny, the rebel, takes the opposite tract: she relies on her beauty and sense of fashion to land a job in a catering company and to also land the attractive married husband of one of her customers. But suddenly, they both find themselves on the precipice. Van fails -- for the first time -- on an immigration case as a result of the post 9/11 atmosphere, she miscarries, and her husband leaves her. Linny finds out that her married man is trying for another child; her affair is discovered and she is in danger of losing her job. It is then that both are summoned home by their distant and uninvolved father for his American citizenship ceremony.
In another author's hands, this story might be simply that -- a nicely put-together story. It's a testimony to Bich Minh Nguyen's wizardry that the story becomes a whole lot more. It's about discovering a sense of self in an "other" world that is designed for the majority -- the tall people who know the ropes. It's about how we fit into family -- and community -- fighting to be genuine and to keep our own identity. It's about how the world changes for the immigrant after 9/11. And it's about forging new relationships with siblings, aging parents, and most of all, ourselves.
It is not a perfect novel. The relationship between Van and Miles, while very interesting, sometimes teeters into a form of disbelief. Would any husband be so cold after his wife's first professional failure, blaming her for the outcome? What was the attraction on his end to begin with if he wanted perfection? Sometimes, the plot twists are just a little too pat. But overall, this was an enjoyable read and a rare look into Vietnamese-American culture. I recommend it.
In 1991 while working at the Home Shopping Network, I met two sisters named Amy and Diane Nguyen. One dated only Asian guys the other dated White guys which was somewhat rare in 1991.
Now in 2009, I went to the movies at Westshore mall in Tampa and most of the couples I saw were Asian girls with White guys. It took maybe 20-years but eventually people get out of their own little boxes and reach out.
It interesting that all the Vietnamese girls I met had sisters they were close to just like in Short Girls. To me this book is like a look at how my past friends lives pretty were. They spoke little about their home lives so this book was like looking through a house window for a peek at what went on inside.
Ok I realize that is a long introduction but hopefully it shades a little light on how I view Short Girls.
First, I love the character Van because she is hardworking, likes to read, ignores her appearance, to an extent, in order to develop her mind. She is the noble character with a big heart who has a hard time trying to succeed.
Then there's her sister Linny, who is outgoing, isn't afraid to expertiment with dating outside her race, fearless, able to drift from one job to the next without coming across as a hapless loser. I admire people like Linny because I'm afraid of that kind of job hopping.
The sisters belong to a bigger family unit in the Luong family. The father is the wacky inventor who hides away from society in his basement lab working on things that are laughed at by some and admired by others. The mother is hardworking who manages to keep the family going by providing a much needed income. The Luong family is typical of a Vietnamese family in some ways and vastly different in others. The Luongs are a wonderfully created paradox that goes along with the paradox of the father and his inventions that either work or not depending on how you look at it.
The story has moments of humor and the normal pains of everyday life that make it universal. It also contains differences from cultural, economical, and height perspectives that taken together create a unique look at immigration in the US.
Van, the hardworking lawyer is going through a difficult time with her husband Miles. She did everything right like exceling in school, getting into law school, and finding a good job with immigration. Yet no matter how hard she tries things don't go her way or seem to work out at all.
Then you have Linny, caught up in an affair with a married man, working as a low salaried cook for ready made family dinners. She needs to stop the affair but that's not likely to happen easily forcing her into difficult situations that spin out of control.
The story has its most heart warming moments as Linny and Van think about their mother and how she kept the entire house going despite whatever circumstances arise.
I never really thought about what it means to be an immigrant until I found myself in a similar situation when I lived in Japan. That feeling of always being the outsider, of not fitting it, of being a gaijin.
When I returned home to Florida I realized all the things in the US that I had taken for granted that changed my perspective on people and how to relate to people from different countries.
Short Girls takes on the identity issues and shows how each family member deals with them. Linny and Van are both US citizens by birth. The mother through naturalization and the father refuses to go along. Yet, despite whether they wish to be citizens or not, they all contribute something useful in their own ways to America making it a greater country through their efforts.
It takes a multicultural background to make the US exciting and different.
Bich Minh Nguyen does a beautiful job of crafting realistic, flaw people that all have different stories to tell. This is a book rich in details and a microscope into the human condition and it goes beyond mere ethnic boundaries to show how people really are and that no matter what your background is, in the end, we all want the same things. We just use different methods to get results like Mr. Luong of Luong Inventions.
Highly recommended book that will keep entertaining you long after the last page is read.
Sometimes even a dull book gets better toward the end when the reader is waiting and hoping for something exciting or interesting to happen - or at the very least, for the writer to tie up loose ends, but I can't say that happened. There was nothing exciting, nothing interesting and no loose ends. For me, 'Short Girls' was a waste of time and money.
I have read dozens of books about immigrants to the U.S. and Canada from all over the globe, and enjoy that genre. This story fell far short of being even slightly entertaining.