After almost four decades since the end of the Vietnam War, a fiction novel has been published that accurately and unabashedly captures the sentiments and experiences of generations of Vietnamese and Viet kieu (Vietnamese abroad) — from grandparents to grandchildren and everything in between. In her debut novel, “The Reeducation of Cherry Truong,” Aimee Phan weaves together the lives of two Vietnamese families – one that resettled in France and the other in America. Twenty-one-year-old Cherry Truong, raised in Little Saigon, Orange County, returns to her homeland where her brother is developing New Little Saigon, Vietnam. Phan uncovers Cherry’s journey by revealing family secrets, hidden motives and broken promises that represent a harsh, yet fair representation of the reality of Vietnamese people.
Reading this novel, it’s apparent that the weaving together of characters and storylines from two families is no small task – both as a writer developing this novel and as a reader following the many different names and their places in the familial line. Phan succeeds in overlapping themes and issues with the families, which showcases her technical abilities as a writer. In this type of book with multi-generational narratives, the reader is not able to sink deeply into the heart and mind of one character, but rather, is teased into wanting to know more about each one. The interest of the reader is carried throughout the book because Phan expertly details each character’s story and demonstrates their effect on one another.
Though the protagonist is the namesake of the book, Cherry Truong is somehow lost among the sea of characters and does not seem to have as much of a distinct personality as some other characters do. However, this lack of distinction could be the very point of the book – which is that the identity of Vietnamese Americans are comprised of the values and experiences of their siblings, parents, grandparents, etc. To understand a Viet kieu is to understand their families, their history during the war and where they resettled. Reading this novel moves the public one step closer to understanding the Vietnamese people and experience.