By: Angie Haddock
In present day New Orleans, Xuan Trung, former beauty queen turned refugee after the Fall of Saigon, is obsessed with divining her daughters’ fates through their Vietnamese zodiac signs. But Trac, Nhi and Trieu diverge completely from their immigrant parents’ expectations. Successful lawyer Trac hides her sexuality from her family; Nhi competes as the only woman of color on a Bachelor-esque reality TV show; and Trieu, a budding writer, is determined to learn more about her familial and cultural past.
This one intrigued me for several reasons – firstly, the family in the book ends up in New Orleans. Secondly, astrology is fun. Thirdly, I tend to read a lot of books about characters from other places.
The story starts with all three daughter characters as adults, and we’ll call this the “present.” As we go through the chapters, we learn more about all of the daughters and their mom. The story is also moving backwards through time, though. We progress through their teenage years, see how the family fared during Hurricane Katrina, and move onward to their childhoods. The daughters all have their personal struggles, obviously, but they collectively deal with the pressures of being first generation Americans – like having parents who eat, shop, and speak differently than those of many of their classmates.
The chapters move around between perspectives, too, so we’re also consistently seeing things from the mom’s point of view. And eventually, we get to the parts of Xuan’s life from before she had her daughters – how she met her husband, how she left Vietnam, and the real story behind that beauty pageant trophy she prizes.
As we progress further, we start to see things from the perspectives of Xuan’s mom as well… and then her mom, and even further back. Most of these earlier generations are really only represented in the last quarter of the book, though. Here we learn about how their family was rich and respected in Saigon, and how they got that way.
I enjoyed this story, in both the New Orleans and Saigon parts. I also found the mom’s obsession with her daughters’ signs fun. (I should point out that she uses astrology based on the Lunar year, and not the Western kind many of us might think of first.) I did kind of wish that we knew more about what happens to the characters when we first meet them, though. For example, one is a contestant on a “Bachelor“-like program… but then we move back in time, and never know what happens to her on the show. It’s such a small thing, though, amid a very rich story.
Happy Lunar New Year, and Happy Year of the Rabbit!