Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Gangster We Are All Looking For.


I thought that it was interesting how thi diem thúy's novel The Gangster We Are All Looking For takes up the discussion of the blend of fiction and auto-biography we had when reading Kingston. The book is classified as fiction, and that is correct and true, but I still can't get around the striking similarities between the narrator and the author. Both came form Vietnam by boat, both lost a sibling through drowning. Normally, I don't like to take the autobiographical approach to a text. But in this case, it is so interesting, especially since lê herself made some decisions that pint towards this interpretation.
First, the autobiographical information is given in the book itself. And not only by the publishing company, in which case one could have argued that they tried to force a autobiographical connection between author and work to raise public interest i the book. But lê also includes the autobiographical in her author's note.

Further, lê decides to keep the author nameless, which has two results. The narrator is of a more general, floating character, the reader can give the narrator more identity. But in this case it is very likely that the reader simply takes the name for the narrator closest available – the author's voice. Of course, it is quite common for authors to use a lot autobiographical background as inspiration, but still I would argue that in this case, the border between author and fictional narrator is exceptionally blurred.
I rarely read a novel in which case the comments on the back fit so well with my own perception of the book as in this case. The Vogue quote says: “Breathtaking [..] Flows in luminous paragraphs that mingle past and present, creating a fluid sense of time”. I couldn't say it differently. I especially liked how the quite short paragraphs were so divided from each other. Sometimes the paragraphs felt just like a little shot, a little glimpse of time, in some cases the book was almost impressionistic. I was fascinated how the narrative pace suddenly changed halfway through the book, and a more or less external account of immigration turned into a quite emotional family story. I felt like being in a narrative swirl. And what especially fascinated me was that although all three family members were struggling in their own way, I never saw them a completely detached from each other. Somehow there always seem a loving connection between them. The way it was narrated, for example, the makeup process between mother and father after drunken rage and arguments never seemed like a bad idea to me, as in other cases. Despite all the strangeness and problems, this family still seemed to belong to each other.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Chris, we just put a wonderful little piece by le thi diem thuy on our website yesterday.

    http://www.granta.com/Online-Only/Portrait-of-my-Father-le-thi-diem-thuy

    Hope you like it. You see a bit of the narrative swirl even in just this short piece...

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