The first time I was away from home for an extended period of time was my freshman year of college. The experience was exhilarating but it was also disorienting and scary. I missed my house, my neighborhood, and most of all, my family.
I would imagine that others experiences are similar to this. This is why I find the attitude of the narrator in The Gangster We Are All Looking For to be so surprising. Though the narrator has moved from Vietnam to the United States, leaving behind her mother and brother, the tone she uses to describe her journey is almost calm. While there is a sense of disorientation, the use of water imagery makes the tone of the narrator seem carefree or perhaps even apathetic within the first two paragraphs.
As the narrator describes the experience of traveling to the United States from Vietnam, as a refugee no less, her tone is almost peaceful. “We floated across the sea” she states, detailing how she and her father, along with four other men, traveled by multiple ships, planes and cars to reach the United States (le thi diem thuy 3). Nothing about the journey sounds easy and yet le thi diem thuy chooses the word float, a word associated with serenity, to describe the narrator’s journey. “Float” undermines the chaos of the fishing boat, Navy ship, plane, and car the narrator takes to reach the United States, making the journey seem easy and relaxing.
This sense of ease occurs again in the first sentence of the book, as the narrator describes how she and her father “washed to shore” (le thi diem thuy 3). The imagery in this phrase is again one that is care free. There is no control in washing to shore, one just goes along with the flow of the water. And yet that lack of control, inherent in both floating and washing ashore, does suggest disorientation. Both seem aimless, movements without a specific direction. In addition, both are movements that are not necessarily human. That is to say, through this word choice the narrator paints herself as an object more than a person. The allusion to an object floating through the water or washing to shore reinforces the idea that the narrator has no control over where she is going. She simply floats along beside her father, going wherever the water might take them. B3.
le thi diem thuy. The Gangster We Are All Looking For. Anchor Books, 2004.