Migrants all share a common thread; a strong desire to succeed in their new home. Not easy to do. Cultural and emotional ties binding migrants to the family left behind in the country of their birth often lead to hardship and heartache. Aimee Phan's debut novel, The Reeducation Of Cherry Truong, examines the difficulties faced by the Truong family, who, after the end of the Vietnam war escape the new regime by becoming `boat people'. After a perilous journey they are taken to a Malaysian holding camp while they await the outcome of their application for resettlement in Paris.
Ms. Phan, a prize winning author, is a great storyteller. The Reeducation of Cherry Truong spans three countries and three generations, the story travelling backward and forward between Vietnam, Paris and the US over a thirty year timeframe. Family trouble starts early in the story when Grandpere Truong after promising to pay passage for his daughter-in-law, Tuyet's mother, Kim-Ly Vo, to leave Vietnam with the Truong family, fails to deliver. Kim-Ly is left behind and Tuyet never forgets or forgives his cruel action. Tuyet, determines the chances are better for reunion with her mother if she and husband, Sanh with their son, Lum, migrate to the U.S.
Grandpere and Grandmere Truong are devastated when on the night before they are due to leave for Paris, Sanh announces his family have been accepted to settle in California. They have no choice but to leave with their oldest son, Phung, his wife and two children, and Trinh and her son Cam (the family of the Truongs middle son, Yen, who is living and working in Paris). The split at a time when family support is really important, impacts deeply on all their lives - repercussions echo through the generations. Tuyet and Sanh, alternate between blaming each other or their children, Lum and Cherry (born in the U.S.) for their American dream not becoming a reality. Trinh, in Paris, separated by an ocean from her only family friend, Tuyet, is haunted by her experiences in the Malaysian refugee camp.
The storyline charts the difficulties Cherry experiences in understanding the actions of her family while trying to help brother Lum, please her mother and follow a life path that will give her a measure of happiness and contentment.
There are some wonderfully written insights into Vietnamese life both during and after the war, and life as a migrant in downtown Paris and California. Family roles and hierarchy are described in fascinating detail; after Grandmother Kim-Ly immigrates to the US (gold sewn into the lining of her clothes) she dominates the family: behave or fall out of financial favour. In Paris, Grandpere Truong, a man of many faces and lives, selfishly controls the family's daily existence. Secrets abound in the Truong family, and the unveiling of these provides an intriguing impetus to Cherry's search for enlightenment.
If you are worried about being confused by the character's names - don't be; there is an easy to understand family tree diagram at the beginning of the text.
After reading The Reeducation Of Cherry Truong the thing I will most remember is: how like Western families Vietnamese families are - infidelity, power plays, jealousy, love, pain, the whole damn thing, they are all there in this enjoyable absorbing read.