The color of the walls in my hometown bedroom are light purple. That’s clear to anyone who enters. But did you notice, or remember, the ticket stub from 2008 sitting on my dresser? I bet not, and that’s okay. You were in my room for two hours, I have been living there my whole life. In The Gangster We Are All Looking For by lê thi diem thúy, the narrator, a nameless girl, struggles with dislocation. lê’s novel follows this girl, her father, and four “uncles” as they become refugees in San Diego after fleeing Vietnam following the war. Their journey is not easy, with no particular final destination. In the opening paragraphs, lê depicts the constant movement this family faces, as seen through “eventually” and “after” (lê 3-4). These particular words and images work together to show the extensive and constant journey this family endures. They struggle to make lasting memories along the way, as seen through the girl’s inability to characterize locations beyond generalizations.
lê begins her novel, “Linda Vista, with its rows of yellow houses, is where we eventually washed to shore” (lê 3). The word “eventually” emphasizes the ongoingness of the narrator’s journey (lê 3). “[E]ventually” suggests that the family has been traveling for an extended period of time before disembarking from their ship. It was only a matter of time before she “eventually washed to shore” (lê 3). The end of this sentence, “washed to shore,” continues the effects of “eventually” (lê 3). Here, lê suggests that there was no intended destination, Linda Vista just happened to be where their boat arrived. This diction conveys uncertainty; thus, creating a sense of dislocation. The family has been moving for an extended period of time; however, they have no clear idea of where they are going or will “eventually” end up (lê 3). An uncertain fate is a common feeling among Vietnamese refugees. These Vietnamese were forced to suddenly flee their homeland without knowing where they might end up, or how long it will take to get to their new location.
Additionally, the narrator describes leaving the refugee camp in Singapore and going to the airport. Here, she states, “We entered the revolving doors of airports and boarded plane after plane” (lê 4). Once again, lê creates a sense of displacement and movement, considering planes are vehicles which carry someone from place to place. The phrase, “boarded plane after plane” reveals that this was not the family’s first time moving (lê 4). “[A]fter” particularly emphasizes the reoccurrence of movement. This alludes to the fact that there must be more than one plane which the family is getting onto. The narrator must have just been in one place and is now flying on another. As well, the mention of a “revolving door” creates an image of going in circles (lê 4). This family is constantly moving from one place to the next, repeating the same simple actions but in different places. “Revolving” denotes rotating around an axis (lê 4). In this case, the family is physically traveling around the world from Asia to North America.
Together, these two images display the long, uncertain fate of a Vietnamese refugee. “Eventually” and “after” reveal that the family’s voyage took a long time (lê 3-4). The family “eventually” landed in California, but it was only after several modes of transportation and numerous stops along the way. Directly after the first line, the narrator describes several of these stops. She states, “Before the Green Apartment, we lived in the Red Apartment… and Orange, in East San Diego” (lê 3). This follows her description of Linda Vista’s “yellow houses” mentioned above (lê 3). The narrator characterizes these places simply by color, mentioning “Green.. Red.. and Orange” (lê 3). This is a very basic, general description. Due to her long and constant journeys as a Vietnamese refugee, she has no time to settle down or make memories. Therefore, she describes each place in a way that is easily identifiable but lacks specificity.
What good is a story if it has no substance? While this family has traveled to a lot of places, each place might as well be interchangeable as no lasting memories were formed during their stays. Dislocation creates long-term effects on the narrator. She is forced to relocate somewhere new before fully living in the last place. This sense of constant uncertainty becomes the fate of the Vietnamese refugee. It takes a long time to get to one destination, but soon enough, they will be on to the next. B3.
lê, thi diem thúy. The Gangster We Are All Looking For. First Anchor Books, 2004.