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The Reeducation of Cherry Truong: A Novel [Hardcover]

Aimee Phan
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

March 13 2012

Cherry Truong’s parents have exiled her wayward older brother from their Southern California home, sending him to Vietnam to live with distant relatives.  Determined to bring him back, twenty-one-year-old Cherry travels to their homeland and finds herself on a journey to uncover her family’s decades-old secrets—hidden loves, desperate choices, and lives ripped apart by the march of war and currents of history.

The Reeducation of Cherry Truong tells the story of two fierce and unforgettable families, the Truongs and the Vos: their harrowing escape from Vietnam after the war, the betrayal that divided them, and the stubborn memories that continue to bind them years later, even as they come to terms with their hidden sacrifices and bitter mistakes. Kim-Ly, Cherry’s grandmother, once wealthy and powerful in Vietnam, now struggles to survive in Little Saigon, California without English or a driver’s license. Cherry’s other grandmother Hoa, whose domineering husband has developed dementia, discovers a cache of letters from a woman she thought had been left behind. As Cherry pieces their stories together, she uncovers the burden of her family’s love and the consequences of their choices.

Set in Vietnam, France, and the United States, Aimee Phan’s sweeping debut novel reveals a family still yearning for reconciliation, redemption, and a place to call home.

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The Reeducation of Cherry Truong explores the intersection of history and human hearts. With tenderness and wisdom, this intricately woven tale presents a world both mysterious and familiar to readers. Aimee Phan is a keen observer and a beautiful writer.”  –Yiyun Li, author of The Vagrants
The Reeducation of Cherry Truong is a powerful debut novel about reverse migration, the new American immigrant story. Cherry Truong's attempt to reconnect to her mother's family reaches around the world, from America to Vietnam to France, and reinvents what she knows of her family's history and her world. And with this novel, Aimee Phan reinvents what we know of ours at the same time.” 
--Alexander Chee, author of Edinburgh: A Novel
“A story of loyalties, histories, and identities, The Reeducation of Cherry Truong explores multiple generations of the Truong and Vos families. Touching on the events of the Vietnam War, cultural assimilation, reconciliation, forgiveness, and redemption, Phan crafts an epic tale. Through Cherry’s eyes, the complex country of Vietnam is lovingly explored in immense, realistic detail. Readers of Maxine Hong Kingston and Gish Jen will enjoy Phan’s sensitive, lush prose and recognize similar questions of identity.” --Booklist
"Powerful debut novel…Phan's lyrical narrative captures the yearning that one feels in seeking a place to call home and the dichotomy inherent in assimilation and preservation of cultural traditions.  Her novel marks a triumphant debut in contemporary Asian-American literature." --Shelf Awareness
“Phan’s gifts are considerable, and the novel is at its best in exposing the dark underside of family relationships while simultaneously creating many sympathetic, realistic characters." --Hyphen Magazine
"Luminously written." --The Oregonian
"In gorgeously liquid prose, Phan gives us deep insight into contemporary Vietnamese-American life. Splendid and passionate." --Chris Offutt, author of No Heroes
"Phan gives voice to the voiceless and makes them speak for us all."--Robert Olen Butler, author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain and Hell
"Phan charts [these] journeys with acuity, sensitivity, [and] wisdom." --Los Angeles Times

About the Author

AIMEE PHAN grew up in Orange County, California, and now teaches in the MFA Writing Program and Writing and Literature Program at California College of the Arts. A 2010 National Endowment of the Arts Creative Writing Fellow, Aimee received her MFA from the Iowa Writer's Workshop, where she won a Maytag Fellowship. Her first book, WE SHOULD NEVER MEET, was named a Notable Book by the Kiryama Prize in fiction and a finalist for the 2005 Asian American Literary Awards. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, and The Oregonian among others.

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By Nicola Manning-Mansfield HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Reason for Reading: I love Asian historical family generational dramas!

This was an immensely satisfying read and will appeal to readers of Lisa See and more so Amy Tan. Dealing with a South Vietnamese family who escapes after the Americans leave and they've had enough of Communist rule. The refugee family ends up in Malaysia and then is split when the patriarch and entire family but one son and his expectant wife emigrate to Paris. The other goes to America. The book moves from past to present as it examines how this one episode had lasting effects on the family down to the third generation. As the granddaughter, Cherry, of the patriarch discovers deep hidden secrets about individual family members the whole truth of that one incident becomes revealed. The story focuses on family relationships between various members (brother/sister, cousins, grandmother/granddaughter, parents/eldest son, etc), generational relationships, cultural differences between the generations and the immigrant experience. The story is not American centric either which makes it unique for this type of story. Yes, one family experiences life in the US, but we also see the perspective of the Vietnamese immigrant in Paris at the same time.

There are many characters to keep track of and they are all intriguing in their own way. I didn't really find many of them lovable as they, mostly, all, at some point show character flaws, some quite terrific, that made them hard, for me, to really like as people, but I was extremely invested in them and how their lives would work out in the end. I love how the choices of the first generation end up affecting the third in ways that are traced back to those choices.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love and pain; the whole damn thing July 9 2012
By bookbuzz - Published on
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.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written April 24 2012
By Writer - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Aimee Phan's debut novel traces two families through multiple generataions, in Orange County and Vietnam. By gradually revealing multiple layers of her characters, Phan tells the story of a changing Vietnam. It is clear that Phan has meticulously researched the history and economics of both Vietnam and Vietnamese-Americans. It is rare for a contemporary novel to both develop compelling characters and tell a larger sociological story. Phan does both flawlessly.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Novel April 24 2012
By Andy - Published on
I enjoyed this novel immensely. It is a beautiful story and I loved how she was able to weave all the characters into a complex and vivid story. I look forward to more stories from this wonderful author.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Didn't Hold My Attention June 26 2013
By Jill - Published on
The Reeducation of Cherry Truong is a haunting, dark story of three generations of a Vietnamese family. Having split up after their time in a refugee camp, this story is spread across three countries; the United States, France, and Vietnam. There is always a sense of darkness and mystery within this novel, each word and action having significance to a broader story than what originally meets the eye. Cherry, the main character of sorts, returns to her family's homeland of Vietnam, and it is only then that she can begin to piece together the shattered truths, delicately placed lies, and the true feelings and intentions of her severed, pained family.

Overall, I found this book to be alright. The detail was exquisite, and the plot was intriguing and dramatic, leaving me uncertain as to what would happen next. I was actually quite surprised that I found this book relatable- though my family has been in America for longer than the living remember, I understand the webs of deceit and the complex emotional relationships between characters, facades included. I am also very appreciative of the fact that there's a family tree included in the front of the novel. I found myself looking back at it quite often, and it made my reading experience easier.

That being said, there were certain aspects of this writing that I didn't enjoy so much. Before I could begin to comprehend my positive opinions of this book, I had to read 200 pages. Having finished the book, I understand why it drew out as it did, but it turned me off from wanting to complete the novel. Also, each chapter-like segment is told from a different perspective of the family, which helps the reader gain insight. These segments also jump in time, which I was okay with. But within each of these sections, I found that jumping between past and present with almost no transition made it hard for me to follow. In addition, I found it odd that Vietnamese words were italicized, but not defined. By drawing attention to these foreign words (foreign to me, at least) I expected there to be a glossary or footnotes, but there were none. I was able to figure out a rough idea using context clues, but detailed definitions would have been helpful and appreciated.

I think that this book is for sure worth reading once, but I won't be reading it again. It helps readers gain an insight into just how much a family can endure, or at least, how each family member copes with it, but ultimately it just didn't hold my attention the way I thought it would.

I received this book through Goodreads First Reads.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A multi-generational family saga set in Vietnam, America and France June 23 2012
By Kimberly Kristine Fay - Published on
As I read this lovely novel, I thought often of "Sacred Willow," by Duong Van Mai Elliott. There are so many incredible books about Vietnam, but very few deal with the issue of the generational differences that erupted over the course of the 20th century. As well, there are numerous books that deal with first-generation immigrant experiences, but having a parent raised in a different culture is very different from having a parent raised in a different culture that has always known war. The generational split is jarring, and as "The Reeducation of Cherry Truong" shows, often insurmountable. Following two related Vietnamese families as they disperse to the United States and France after the war, this book is at it's strongest when showing how disconnected the Vietnamese parents are from the children they raise in America and France -- and vice versa. The stories are clearly personal to the author, and even though the book already weighs in at 350 pages, I feel that it could have been much longer. So many of these characters deserve their own novels, but at the same time, each one is given, over the course of the book, his or her own significant short story -- not surprising, given that Aimee Phan is a highly regarded short story writer. This book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the impact of the Vietnam War on the family structure of Vietnamese refugees. Beyond that, it's simply a great read, especially for book groups, since it offers so much to discuss.
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