Tong Thomson Ng
EWRT 2 (0730)
Book review – extra credit: Catfish and Mandala
A trip to your own heart
Catfish and Mandala is about the author's journey to Vietnam to get in touch with his roots. Andrew is a Vietnamese-American that immigrated to the US shortly after Vietnam's reunification. "Mandala" signifies a bicycle wheel, as Andrew's journey is undertaken on bicycle. His stories of modern-day Vietnam are interdispersed with his mother's memories and his own memories of his childhood in Vietnam and the US. This story is mind-broadening -- I am amazed at the difficult trials he experienced at such a young age.
At the same time that Catfish and Mandala reveals truths about Vietnam that no Westerner would ever unveil, it also tells about the racism in US society that many of us never experience. I was shocked to read about the subtle and outright racism that is a part of his life in the US. At the same time, the author maintains a love for the United States, only made stronger by his visit to his fatherland.
The writing is fantastic. The descriptions are vivid, employing all five senses. I enjoyed the invented words - combinations of two English words - that Pham used to express concepts in Vietnamese. I can’t speak Vietnamese, but I do have a strong
interest about it after reading the book. They say that when you learn a language, you learn more about its culture and people. Andrew Pham bridges the gap for non-Vietnamese speakers. Words like "Brother-Friend" and "Neighbor-Relative" express the
relationships between Vietnamese people. In Vietnamese, you use different words depending on the age, status, and intimacy of a relationship between you and another person. Andrew explains this early in the book, and so his phrases make sense.
Catfish and Mandala, so far, is one of the best books I have read this year, and also the When Heaven and Earth Changed Places: A Vietnamese Woman's Journey
from War to Peace by Le Ly Hayslip.10 hours after I started it, I had finished it. The writing is hilarious, tragic, vivid and visceral. I can see the beggars, smell the rain-damp air, visualize the author's changing relationship with his homeland as he immerses himself in it. This book definitely deserves all the awards and accolades it has already received and then some. I am of a mind to go out and buy it for everyone I know.
Pham, Andrew X. Catfish and Mandala: a Two-wheeled Voyage through the
Landscape and Memory of Vietnam. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999. Print.