Erasing the Past: Vietnamese Identity in “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice”

Multiple images of Vietnam War

The past is often inescapable. Try as one might, there are certain things that simply cannot be erased. In “The Literature of the Korean and Vietnam Wars,” Daniel Kim and Viet Thanh Nguyen argue that the Vietnam War continues to define Vietnamese Americans in this way. It can be seen through literature, as “most Vietnamese literature continues to be about the war or its consequences” (Kim 67). This is certainly true of both “Aubade with Burning City” and The Gangster We Are All Looking For. These works are a “direct confrontation with the war” (Kim 69), detailing the war and its aftermath on the characters. The stories and authors, therefore, come to be defined by the Vietnam War or its consequences.

In “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice,” on the other hand, the narrator spends most of the novel trying to distance himself from his past. Using flashbacks, the narrator discusses his hatred for his father, sharing specific examples from childhood to comment on their strained relationship. In doing so he distances himself from his father, simultaneously distancing himself from Vietnam. Kim and Nguyen argue that Nam Le uses this perceived distance in order to “to demonstrate that a Vietnamese author in the United States…does not have to write about Viet Nam” (Kim 67). However, though Le’s story is not explicitly about the Vietnam War, ironically the story is incomplete without it. In one particular scene, the narrator speaks of the time when he “discovered that [his father] had been involved in a massacre” (Le 13). In the three plus pages Le uses to describe this massacre, it is clear that without Vietnam, the story is incomplete. Of course this flashback is used to shed light on the narrator’s childhood and to build the character of the narrator’s father, yet in doing so it is clear that much of the narrator’s relationship with his father and the strain it constantly seems to be under, is a result of the Vietnam War.Father and Son Silhouette

Therefore, though the use of flashbacks can be seen as a tool to create distance between the narrator’s current life and any attachment he has to his Vietnamese ethnicity, flashbacks also function to tie him to this identity. While the narrator works to distance himself from his father for the entirety of the work, in the end, the father’s story still comes to define the son. B4.

Works Cited

Kim, Daniel Y., and Viet Thanh Nguyen. “The Literature of the Korean and Vietnam Wars.” The Cambridge Companion to Asian American Literature, edited by Crystal Parikh and Daniel Y. Kim. Cambridge University Press, 2015, pp. 66–72.

Le, Nam. “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice.” The Boat, Alfred A. Knopf, 2008, pp. 3–28.

Grave Rubbing: Independance and Choice in The Namesake

I was a very obedient boy – being an only child, I often had a great bit of focus placed onto me, and as such I, more often than not, did what I was told. It’s for this reason that I remember the first time I openly said no to my mom, and it was during the classic nightly call for bedtime. I don’t remember how old I was, but I do remember that this time, for whatever reason, I just wasn’t feeling it.

So I crossed my arms across my chest, looked her in the eyes, and said very plainly, “I refuse.”

What a little badass I was.

Meanwhile, in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, young Gohol’s first conscious refusal is a bit less direct but just as impactful: Asked to get rid of a number of rubbings taken from gravestones, the youngster secretly defies his mother.

“But Gohol is attached to them. For reasons he cannot explain or necessarily understand, these ancient puritan spirits, these very first immigrants to America, these bearers of unthinkable, obsolete names, have spoken to him so much that in spite of his mother’s disgust he refuses to throw the rubbings away.” (Lahiri 71)

A tombstone

While Gohol’s first refusal of his mother’s request may not have been as direct as my own, Lahiri’s description of it makes it just as mythical of a moment. It’s very clear here that something has happened — the structure makes that obvious, as Lahiri slowly works through the different sections of the deep connections Gohol feels to theses dead puritans. The focus on the “unthinkable, obsolete names” clearly attributes part of the connections to Gohol feeling closer to them due to the unusual nature of his own name, but there’s a lot more going on here, even if we don’t quite know what (Lahiri 71). The narrator’s reference to this makes that clear: as he “cannot explain or necessarily understand” the nature of his feelings, neither are we told what they are in this moment, in this peek into his mind (Lahiri 71).

But that doesn’t mean we can’t figure them out.

See, here’s the funny thing about Gohol’s first refusal: It’s not. His first refusal actually occurs in chapter 2, during the ceremony in which he is asked to choose his destiny among a number of items placed in front of him. Instead of listening to any of the urgings from the voices around him, he begins to cry, denying everybody and refusing everything at the same time. And the reason for his refusal isn’t because of him not wanting to choose any of those items, it’s because of all the voices screaming at him because he WANTS to refuse.

A man refusing

Both refusals have been desperate attempts clutching at some form of independence, the first, in chapter 2, over the right to choose his own destiny, and the second in chapter 3 over the right to choose his own connections.

B5

Images of Life and Death in “The Namesake”

Life and death. While many texts explore this dichotomy, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri complicates these terms by juxtaposing them in relation to trauma. The Namesake explores a family of Indian immigrants in the United States and their adjustment to a new culture, parenthood, cultural conflicts, and trauma. In the first chapter of the novel, Ashoke describes his near death experience from years prior, in which he almost died after a train went off course. This leads to a conflict with his new role as a father.

Easter: It's a Matter of Life and Death - Feed the Hunger

Ashoke’s trauma conflicts with his desire to be the best parent possible, as his first moments with his newborn son are infiltrated with violent images. This uncomfortable contrast suggests that Ashoke has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from his near death experience.

As Ashoke waits for his son’s birth, he connects the arrival of new life with his traumatic experience, saying:

“Although it is Ashima who carries the child, he, too, feels heavy, with the thought of life, of his life and the life about to come from it… Again he tastes the dust on his tongue, sees the twisted train, the giant overturned iron wheels.” (Lahiri 30)

Ashoke fully identifies with Ashima’s experience as a pregnant woman in these thoughts, and feels heavy in a metaphoric sense. While Ashima feels the actual weight of a child, Ashoke feels an emotional weight of the responsibility of parenthood. “Heaviness” has negative connotations, making the birth of his son sound like a burden.

The nouns of “dust,” “twisted train,” and “giant overturned wheels” create a feeling of entrapment. The alliteration of “twisted train” emphasizes the impending doom, as it creates a rushed, uneasy sound.This arrival of new life is complicated by his trauma, as he has experienced what it is like to be on the verge of death. The imagery of dust on one’s tongue evokes not being able to breathe. “Giant overturned wheels” creates a feeling of smallness and imminent doom.FATHERS & FATHERHOOD: Greatest Quotes About Fathers and ...

These disturbing images of death are juxtaposed with the arrival of his newborn son. Although the birth of his son should fill Ashoke with joy, the unresolved trauma complicates this experience. The imagery of the final sensory experiences before his ‘death’ articulate how raw the experience is in Ashoke’s head. These intrusive thoughts suggest an impending conflict between Ashoke’s ideal role as a father and the trauma he needs to resolve before fully embracing those responsibilities. B5.

Works Cited

Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. Houghton Mifflin, 2003

 

Grocery Shopping: Assimilation through Juxtaposition in The Namesake

I’m going to be honest. I read Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake for class in high school, and my strongest memory of that unit was everyone complaining about having to read it at all. For context, I went to a fairly white and mostly assimilated high school in the suburbs eastern Massachusetts, so you would think that the parallels between our town and the town the Gangulis occupy would have been a bit more obvious than they actually were. But at the time, no one seemed to notice just how present the novel’s depiction of assimilation was directly around us.

Regardless of my high school’s opinion on The Namesake, the novel outlines clear tensions within the Ganguli family’s assimilation to American culture, particurally within the generational gap. Lahiri juxtaposes these generations while speaking of the adaptations Ashoke andboar bristle shaving brushAshima make through the years. She writes that “Ashoke, accustomed to wearing tailor-made pants and shirts all his life, learns to buy ready-made. He trades in fountain pens for ballpoints, Wilkinson blades and his boar-bristled shaving brush for Bic razors brought six to a pack” (Lahiri 65). Lahiri identifiesBic RazorsAshoke’s material habits to fall into one of two opposing categories: American convention and Indian convention. By setting tailor-made clothing, fountain pens, and a shaving brush against ready-made clothes, ballpoints, and Bic razors, Lahiri juxtaposes the material elements of Ashoke’s life. She emphasizes the replacement of Indian lifestyle conventions with American ones, identifying the swapping out of possessions as a marker of the family’s assimilation and adaptation of American life.

In contrast to Lahiri’s description of Ashoke’s switching from Indian conventions to American conventions, she only refers to the American conventions when speaking of Gogol. She writes that “In the supermarket they let Gogol fill the cart with items that he and Sonia, but not they, consume: individually wrapped slices of cheese, mayonnaise, tuna fish, hot dogs. For Gogol’s lunches they stand at the deli to buy cold cuts, and in the mornings Ashima makes sandwiches with bologna or roast beef. At his insistence, she concedes and makes him and American dinner once a week as a treat, Shake ‘n Bake or Hamburger Helper prepared with"american food aisle" at a british grocery storeground lamb” (Lahiri 65). In the lists of American food that she identifies as staples of Gogol’s diet and tastes, Lahiri never compares them to the Indian alternative which they substitute in for. Instead, she presents without alternative the American conventions which Gogol prefers. Lahiri’s description of Gogol and American food directly juxtaposes with Ashoke and American objects, as for Gogol, the younger generation, she does not note on the alternative, which lingers for Ashoke, the elder generation.

Through juxtaposition, Lahiri reflects on the generational perspective between immigrants and their children as they assimilate. With the descriptions of food and materials in their lives, Lahiri suggests the separate nature of assimilation. For an elder generation, American assimilation comes more with a sense of substitution and replacement. However, for the younger generation, being raised in America, gravitate toward American cultural norms and do not experience that sense of replacing their heritage.

Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. Houghton Mifflin, 2003.

Being a Foreigner is Like a Lifelong Pregnancy: Simile in “The Namesake”

Being away from home for an extended period of time can be difficult. But it’s especially challenging when you have to leave home and move out of the country, the only place you’ve known your whole life, and adapt to an entire new culture and society. This is the exact struggle that Ashima Ganguli experiences in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake. After marrying Ashoke, she leaves her family behind in Calcutta, India and follows her new husband to the city of Boston in America, where Ashoke decides to complete his engineering studies and become a professor. While Ashoke is happy to be seeing a different part of the world, Ashima is constantly racked with homesickness, to the point where she compares the experience of being a foreigner as painful as pregnancy.

It is clear from the onset of the novel that Ashima misses her home. On the very first page of the novel, Ashima attempts to recreate a concoction from India to consume during her pregnancy, which is “a humble approximation of the snack sold for pennies on Calcutta sidewalks and on railway platforms throughout India” (Lahiri 1). However, she notices that, “as usual, there’s something missing” (Lahiri 1). Ashima’s efforts at trying to create a reminder of her homeland in her new home abroad can be seen as a representation of her homesickness because even though she has been living in Boston for a while, something is still out of place.

https://goo.gl/images/Pgxm8X

Throughout the rest of the novel, Ashima’s homesickness is more explicitly stated: she often ponders about the cultural differences between India and America, feels lonely without her family, cries when there are no letters from Calcutta, etc. Prior to her son Gogol being born, Ashima would “spend hours in the apartment, napping, sulking, rereading her same five Bengali novels on the bed” (Lahiri 35). Though life does improve when she has children, Ashima still feels saddened by homesickness. For instance, when the Gangulis move from Boston to a university town outside of the city, Ashima feels distressed all over again from having to leave behind a familiar setting. At the beginning of Chapter 3, her thoughts about this process are highlighted: “For being a foreigner, Ashima is beginning to realize, is a sort of lifelong pregnancy – a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts. It is an ongoing responsibility…like pregnancy, being a foreigner, Ashima believes, is something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect” (Lahiri 49 – 50). The simile used here exemplifies how being a foreigner is like being pregnant. Ashima uses pregnancy as a comparison to her experiences as a foreigner to allow the reader to understand her emotions in a more familiar manner and to emphasize how difficult and painful it is.

https://goo.gl/images/DkJub3

Ashima’s pain as both a mother and a foreigner are addressed in this passage. Through the usage of similes, Ashima makes it clear how, as an Indian living in America, she constantly has to struggle with the burden of taking care of her status. She always has to combat homesickness, deal with new ways of life, and put up with ignorant people. Much like raising a child, the feeling as a foreigner never leaves Ashima alone, constantly demanding her attention, looking for a cure to the feelings of emptiness and desire for her former life of relative ease and familiarity.

B5

Works Cited

Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. Houghton Mifflin, 2003.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand. Good name?” Misinterpretations Associated with Names in Jhumpa Lahiri’s, “The Namesake”

The 2003 novel, The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri, is worthy of its title. “Good name,” “pet name,” “legal name,” “nicknames”: the list goes on and on for different, distinct name categories (Lahiri 58). If that sounds confusing to distinguish, you are not alone. Using the proper name given the situation is a central problem that arises in Lahiri’s text. Ashima, Ashoke, and their Bengali relatives recognize the importance of having at least two names. One name is used in private and the other is reserved for the public sphere. However, Mrs. Lapidus, the principal of Gogol’s new school, does not understand this Indian tradition. Her inability to comprehend, or take the time to do so, results in an unique shift in power dynamics, created using dialogue.

Hello, My Name Is

After Ashoke leaves his son at his new elementary school, Gogol expresses his distress about his “parents want[ing him] to have another name in school” (Lahiri 59). Mrs. Lapidus asks the five year old, “And what about you, Gogol? Do you want to be called by another name?” (Lahiri 59). Upon first glance, one may interpret this moment as progressive. Mrs. Lapidus notices Gogol’s unhappiness and actively creates a dialogue with and acknowledges the opinions of the child. Oftentimes, the requests of a kid are not considered because their parents dictate their actions and beliefs. However, the principal is not necessarily sympathetic to Gogol because of his age, but because of her misunderstanding. Mrs. Lapidus’ question to Gogol follows a lengthy conversation with Ashoke. When dropping Gogol off, the question of his name emerges. Given his multiple names:

Mrs. Lapidus studies the registration form. She has not had to go through this confusion with the other two Indian children… ‘There seems to be some confusion, Mr. Ganguli,’ she says. ‘According to these documents, your son’s legal name is Gogol.’

                            ‘That is correct. But please allow me to explain—’

                            ‘That you want us to call him Nikhil.’

                            ‘That is correct.’

                            Mrs. Lapidus nods. ‘The reason being?’

                            ‘That is our wish.’

                            ‘I’m not sure I follow you, Mr. Ganguli…’ (Lahiri 58).

Thus, the praise once given to Mrs. Lapidus for asking Gogol his preference regarding his name should be reconsidered. Her motivations for gaining Gogol’s insight is because she does not understand his father’s rational. She admits to her “confusion” but is not interested in fully understanding or resolving this misunderstanding (Lahiri 58). Dialogue establishes an opportunity for understanding, considering it allows for clarification by questioning back and forth between participants. However, Mrs. Lapidus does not take up this opportunity. Ashoke explains, “That is our wish” to call his son Nikhil in school instead of Gogol (Lahiri 58). Rather than respecting this “wish,” Mrs. Lapidus refers to the boy as Gogol because doing so is easier than being educated about this Indian custom (Lahiri 58). Ashoke attempts to explain his name preference several times. Nevertheless, Mrs. Lapidus “does not understand a word” (Lahiri 59).

Therefore, this conversation becomes a problem because it “others” Ashoke and Ashima. Mrs. Lapidus asks Gogol his preference because he is more American than his parents. She is able to easily comprehend Gogol’s wishes because they are similar to her own. Gogol grew up with only one name, a custom traditionally American. This becomes a problem of intolerance. Mrs. Lapidus would rather practice methods of her convenience instead of educating herself about beliefs different from her own but that are incredibly important to Ashoke and Ashima. Because their “wish” was not respected, upon the birth of their daughter, Ashoke and Ashima have “learned their lesson after Gogol. They’ve learned that schools in America will ignore parents’ instructions and register a child under his pet name” (Lahiri 58, 61). The parents are forced to shift their beliefs in order to fit into a school system and nation different from their home.

Form to fill out with name

Avoidance over education often takes precedence when confusion occurs. It is ironic that Mrs. Lapidus, a principal of a school, would rather ignore the requests of Indian parents than educate herself about their culture and customs. This gives more power to a child than adults because it is easier to go along with the established norm instead of taking time to learn about a new situation. As a result, Ashoke and Ashima are othered because they are not Americans. Beyond that, they are also othered from other Indians considering, Mrs. Lapidus “has not had to go through this confusion with the other two Indian children” (Lahiri 58). This mindset creates categories for discrimination. Mrs. Lapidus struggles to comprehend the different categories the Bengali culture associates with names; yet, she does not hesitate to place Ashoke and Ashima into Americanized boxes. B5.

Works Cited

Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. Mariner Books, 2003.

 

She Cries, She Cries, She Cries: Repetition and Juxtaposition of Action Verbs in The Namesake 

Homesickness. We all know the feeling. The empty pit in your stomach. The feeling of longing that you just can’t quite put at ease. And then just like that, something familiar comes along and there is a brief sense of relief. In The Namesake, Ashima’s homesickness is almost tangible. However, with the birth of her son, Gogol, there is a short lived relief. Lahiri uses the repetition and juxtaposition of action verbs to show this brief, but positive change.

Figure walking through emptiness.

From her first years in the United States to the birth of her son, all Ashima thinks about is going home. Every day she goes through the same routine, barely moving, barely living. Lahiri’s use of repetition emphasizes the monotony of Ashima’s everyday routine.

“She cries as she feeds him and as she pats him to sleep, and he cries between sleeping and feeding. She cries after the mailman’s visit because there are no letters from Calcutta. She cries when she calls Ashoke at his department and he does not answer” (Lahiri 34).

Not only does the repetition of “cries” make clear how unhappy Ashima is with life in the United States, it also emphasizes how boring and colorless each of her days is. Every activity that Ashima performs takes place within her house and there is no interaction with anyone but the mailman. However, all of this changes once she starts to take agency in her life, due to the birth of her son. In taking care of Gogol, Ashima develops new patterns that make her life much more eventful and the verbs Lahiri uses to describe her actions begin to change too.Mother and child's hands

“She discovers,” “she gives,” “she sings,” “she drinks,” (Lahiri 35).

Just as before, the word “she” is repeated over and over, and yet each time it is accompanied by something new. Though to cry is an action verb, the verbs that accompany “she” here show much more physical movement and, along with that, happiness. In juxtaposition with the words from just a page earlier, it is as though Ashima has finally begun to live her life.

B5.

Works Cited

Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. Mariner Books, 2003.

Blog Prompt #5: Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake

Blog Post #5 Due: Fri 11/2, 8:30am // Comment #5 Due: Fri 11/2, 11:59pm

Cover of Jhumpa Lahiri's The NamesakeOkay folks, we’re going to switch things up here, so pay attention! : ) Each of you will be responsible for leading a portion of our opening discussion of Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel, The Namesake, on Friday, 11/2. You will use this blog post assignment to help you facilitate that discussion.

First, decide on a central tension, problem, or pattern that you find especially compelling from Chp. 1-3. Then, in this blog post, introduce this tension / problem / pattern and close read a specific literary device in conjunction with it. Remember to pay attention to the key steps in the close reading process.

In class on Friday, you will have 5-8 minutes to facilitate our discussion. You should come prepared to complete steps 1-3 listed below in a thoughtful and engaging manner. This will require that you review your own blog post carefully, develop thought-provoking annotations on the assigned chapters, and make note of at least 2-3 interesting and focused questions to facilitate your portion of the discussion.

(1) Summarize your blog post for the class in an engaging and conversational style (1-2 mins for this step)

(2) Pose a specific question emerging from your post to the class. This question should be one that invites multiple interpretations / close readings centered on either: (a) the scene you analyze in your blog post or (b) a different scene in the novel that you direct us to.

(3) You will also be responsible for helping to facilitate responses from your peers and developing connections between your peer’s responses and your own analysis. This means: (a) asking follow-up questions as necessary or (b) making comments that build on your peers’ responses. (4-6 mins for steps 2-3)

 

Here vs There: Do I want to go back?

B4

Note: I used an Ebook version of The Gangster, so page numbers may be different.

As an adult, looking back onto my childhood home is a very unusual experience. It almost seems like a magical place: I remember is as comfortable, friendly, and accessible, despite not understanding much of it. After my family moved, we’ve never had the chance to go back to that town, which has made it seem all the more illustrious and wonderful in my mind. And in lê thi diem thúy’s The Gangster We Are All Looking For (TG), the narrator’s mother (Ma)  experiences her childhood home in a very similar (albeit far more intense) way.

The mother’s relationship to home is echoed throughout TG, and her struggle to deal with what she has left behind become central parts of the narrative. The book follows a family of Vietnamese refugees who come to America due to the Vietnam war. Ma has a troubled family history, as is stated on page 198 of TG: She was disowned by her parents due to her choice to marry her current husband, the narrator’s father. On page 199, Ma’s struggles with the past come to the forefront, when a single photograph of Ma’s parents arrives on the doorstep of her house: “When the photograph came. Ma and Ba got into a fight. (…)  Ma broke all the dishes. They said they never should’ve been together” (lê 199). Here, Ma struggles to confront her decision to leave that place of comfort. She curses the decision that caused her to leave – her decision to marry Ba (the father) – and also makes an active attempt to make her current place of residence seem less homely by destroying parts of the family’s current place of refuge. This destructive rampage also emphasizes Ma’s discomfort with settling into the consequences of her decisions. She dislikes her current living situation compared to her previous life in her home country, and in that longing to return, makes an attempt to destroy bits of her current place of living that gives off an impression of permanence.

A broken dish

However, many other Vietnamese-American characters do not long towards their home country in the same way that Ma does. Nam, the narrator of Nam Le’s short story The Boat, expresses a distinct level of comfort with being adjacent to yet separate from his childhood home. This is best expressed on page 9 of the story, where Nam imagines himself posing for a senior photo in traditional cultural garb: “I pictured myself standing in a rice paddy, wearing a straw conical hat. Then I pictured my father in the same field, wearing his threadbare fatigues, young and hard-eyed” (Le 9). This scene is structured in such a way as to make evident Nam’s discomfort with his past. His own mental depiction of his wear during this scene, “a straw conical hat” and standing in a rice paddy is ironically stereotypical of Vietnam, a point-for-point depiction of the American image of a Vietnamese rice farmer. And yet his depiction of his father is far more military and distinctly less friendly: “threadbare fatigues” is a clear allusion to army wear, and the combination of a “hard-eyed” gaze with youth implies a difficult life and a hardened exterior. It’s an unfriendly image, and a purposeful comparison between Nam, who spent only his childhood in Vietnam, and his father, who lived there much longer and served in the war. Similar to Ma, Nam experienced degrees of rejection from his parents, but he does not wish to return to his home. He does not hold Vietnam in the same heightened light that Ma does, and seems somewhat uncomfortable in his mental exploration of placing himself in Vietnam next to his father.

This directly contrasts much of TG; In that novel, Ma, the narrator and the family struggle on American soil and experience much of American tradition as unusual and alien, yet Nam appears to associate a return to home with a kind of alien unfriendliness, as shown through the differences between his description and description of his father.

Hot, Easy, and Entertaining: Redefining a Genre by Being Abrasive

What could possibly be easier than writing about yourself? What could be more natural, more relatable, more fascinating? In his short story, “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice,” Nam Le plays with the expectation of ethnic literature as easy, entertaining writing.

When the story’s main character, Nam, struggles with writer’s block, he reflects on what others have told him about the genre of “ethnic literature.” Nam reflects on the words of a friend to him: “How can you have writer’s block? Just write about Vietnam” (Le 8). ThisNam Lesuggestion brings up the outsider expectations of ethnic literature as easy to write, as something natural, something inherent. Adding to this assumption of ethnic literature as an easy genre, Nam also remembers what a writing instructor told him once, that “Ethnic literature’s hot. And important too” (Le 9). The reflection of ethnic literature as “hot” suggests the genre’s easy popularity.

So what makes ethnic literature so easy? What allows it to sit on the shelf as a “hot” genre for an American audience? In part, because it simply does not challenge American ideas of the Vietnam War. It does not assign fault or blame for trauma with America’s involvement in the war; it exists to be unobtrusive to its American readers.

In lê thi diem thúy’s novel The Gangster We Are All Looking For, even as she discusses the trauma which shaped her entire life, the events affecting this trauma are her brother’s death and her separation from her mother. Notably, she never discusses a source of blame for these events, although if causes for either event were to be identified, then the ocean and the chaos of war would be these direct sources. Similarly, Ocean Vuong’s “Aubade with Burning City,” while the poem details the traumatic event of the evacuation from Saigon, the poem does not assign a sense of blame that alienates an American audience. Vuong writes “The radio saying run run run” (Vuong). Vuong’s poem highlights American assistance in the evacuation of Saigon, situating America in the light. Even as lê and Vuong’s works discuss wartime trauma, this trauma never challenges the United States, and therefore is able to exist unchallenged as a piece of genre writing.

However, in his short story, Le refuses to leave America unchallenged. Perhaps due to his residence in Australia, Le directly discusses American actions as the root of trauma in the Vietnam War. In excruciating detail, he discusses the My Lai massacre that his father survived, stating “People were now shouting, ‘No VC no VC,’ but the Americans just frowned and spatMy Lai Massacre and laughed” (Le 16). Le paints Americans as cruel and impassive as they commit inhumane actions, murdering civilians, raping women, and committing mass slaughter. This scene directly challenges American involvement in the war, and in doing so, challenges ethnic literature’s convention of being unabrasive to an American audience.

Despite being seen as an easy genre to add writing to, Le digs deep into the meaning of what “ethnic literature” means. He dredges up severe trauma in excruciating detail, proving the difficulty of ethnic literature’s creation. In discussing such a difficult memory and assigning a sense of blame in it, Le directly combats the idea that ethnic literature is easy and entertaining. Instead, he proves the difficulties that permeate the genre.