I loved this book Found it in a hotel in Hanoi, it was the perfect book to read as I returned home and reflected on our trip Pham captures the rawness, beauty, chaos, and striving that characterized my brief visit better than I ever could His own story is remarkable escaped Vietnam with his family after the war, boat nearly sank, refugee in America, growing up in a rough neighborhood, family drama and trauma, and of course his journeys peddling through mexico, the Pacific coast of the us, and finally, Vietnam His writing was beautiful and I felt, deeply, his story of such a necessary journey.Some descriptions I like I try to explain to her about life in America And that I don t know her I try not to let my disappointment show I come searching for truths, hoping for redeeming grace, a touch of gentility But, no The abrasiveness of Saigon has stripped away my protective layers I am raw and bare and I ask myself, Who are these strangers These Vietnamese, these wanting wanting wanting wanting people The bitter bile of finding a world I don t remember colors my disconsolate reconciliation between my Saigon of Old and their muddy grubby Saigon of Now Saigon gnaws at meits noiseits uncompromising wantits constantMememememememememememememe Could I tell Calvin I was initiated into the American heaven during my first week Stateside by eight black kids who pulverized me in the restroom, calling me Viet CongAlthough we often pretend to be modest and humble as we preen our successful immigrant stories, we rarely admit even to ourselves the circumstances and the cost of our being here We elude it all like a petty theft committed ages ago When convenient, we take it as restitution for what happened to Vietnam In the end, Pham realizes just how home America really is imperfections and all I ve been happy to feel similarly when returning from my travels, as much as I love being away But now, I miss the white, the black, the red, the brown faces of America I miss their varied shapes, their tumultuous diversity, their idealistic search for racial equality, their bumbling but wonderful pioneering spirit I miss English words in my ears, miss the way the language rolled off my tongue so naturally I miss its poetry Somewhere along the way, my search for roots became my search for home a place I know best even though there are those who would have me believe otherwise. We have a lot of work to do on race in America I m exhausted just thinking about it, but as a white as you can get without bleach American I have to at least show up to read books like these Because Americans of color and other ethnicities have to live through the brutality of it every day of their lives. Catfish And Mandala Is The Story Of An American Odyssey A Solo Bicycle Voyage Around The Pacific Rim To Vietnam Made By A Young Vietnamese American Man In Pursuit Of Both His Adopted Homeland And His Forsaken Fatherland Andrew X Pham Was Born In Vietnam And Raised In California His Father Had Been A POW Of The Vietcong His Family Came To America As Boat People Following The Suicide Of His Sister, Pham Quit His Job, Sold All Of His Possessions, And Embarked On A Year Long Bicycle Journey That Took Him Through The Mexican Desert, Around A Thousand Mile Loop From Narita To Kyoto In Japan And, After Five Months And , Miles, To Saigon, Where He Finds Nothing Familiar In The Bombed Out Darkness In Vietnam, He S Taken For Japanese Or Korean By His Countrymen, Except, Of Course, By His Relatives, Who Doubt That As A Vietnamese He Has The Stamina To Complete His Journey Only Westerners Can Do It And In The United States He S Considered Anything But American A Vibrant, Picaresque Memoir Written With Narrative Flair And An Eye Opening Sense Of Adventure, Catfish And Mandala Is An Unforgettable Search For Cultural Identity This book created a clear image of post war Vietnam, but while I enjoyed following Pham s travels, I never became truly engaged with the book Although the author constantly reiterated his deep and troubling ambivalence about his native land, his struggle failed to grab my heart The book contained some scenes that were theoretically poignant and wrenching, but I just didn t think Pham s writing was strong enough to break through the screen of journalistic observation and actually convey authentic emotion. I remember Tien asking me if I thought someday I could take my own life as Chi had done Could you do it, Andrew, if everyone you loved had forsaken you no hope left, nothing to live for Maybe, I told him, I don t know but I always think I have one last ticket, one last hand to gamble What would you do then before you die I d walk out the door to destinations unknown, spending the sum of my breaths in one extravagant gesture Loc 493 496 When your older sister brother hangs himself after having run away from homethan 14 years earlier, what do you do If you are Andrew Pham, you bike up the west coast of the US, fly to Japan, then bike throughout Japan and Vietnam Pham describes this journey in Catfish and Mandala A Two wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam.To be fair, Pham s journey was motivated by many confusing things that needed to be put to rest war and starvation his family s journey by boat from Vietnam in 1975 and their unlikely rescue his beloved older sister s running away and later return as a man Minh s suicide the generational abuse that threaded throughout and damaged the family his search for a home in a country that said he didn t belong.In the US, Pham was Chink, gook, Jap, Charlie, GO HOME, SLANT EYES Loc 107 Any white face could be a face of violence a quiet fear we live with Loc 584 585 In Vietnam, he was accused of being Viet kieu foreign Vietnamese , threatened with violence As one Vietnamese cousin said Viet kieu s fickleness causes a lot of problems Refusing to eat the same food as your hosts makes them think that you think you re too good for them Their food is filthy, unfit for you Loc 1272 1273 Shame and guilt circle around Pham guilt for not being there for Chi Minh, for not having volunteered to work with runaways or the homeless, shame for having been luckier than any of thedeserving Vietnamese he met in his travels In this Vietnamese muck, I am too American Too refined, too removed from my que, my birth village The sight of my roots repulses me And this shames me deeply Loc 2850 2851 This could be a peculiarly Vietnamese or Vietnamese American story, but most of us have experienced something outside our realm of understanding suicide, abuse, violence, bullying, grief and need to discover some way of putting it at rest Pham does so by interweaving descriptions of his travels with many descriptions of food, eating, and loose bowels childhood memories watching over his father in prison camp exploring his hometown, Phan Thiet expecting to drown in their escape from Vietnam and his long ago and recent past in the US His stories sometimes feel like a broken necklace, where not all of the beads are found and threaded together I swear that he didn t complete some stories but isn t that the nature of memory Talking about things may not make all memories lie flat and clean and this is not a flat and clean review , but it can help makesense Pham was able to hear his father s lamentations about not being a better father I didn t know better It is the Vietnamese way You beat your children if you love them You beat them to show them the right way to live You beat them to let them know they are important to you Loc 4980 4982 What will you do in America Son asks, reverting back to English as he usually does when he is serious The answer falls on me, a drop of water from a blue sky Be a better American Loc 5262 5264 Kindle edition About 80% of my reading is on my kindle, which I love for its light weight and convenience, easy searches through a book, and effortless reading at night However, when I read classics, the editions often have transcription errors My version of Ellison s Invisible Man was completely unreadable Unfortunately, even though Catfish and Mandala was first published in 1999, it had many small errors that marred its story. 2.5 stars Vietnam seems to be calling me recently The graphic novel of Artemis Fowl startles me with its opening depiction of the central market in Saigon A student researches Nixon s presidency and the fall of Saigon I read Tree of Smoke, and go to the internet to pull up maps, pictures and stories of Saigon, its surroundings, and the larger Mekong delta region, to look at the places I saw so many years ago 1969 1970 I am drawn into this work, on a summer reading list for another student Pham seamlessly interweaves who he is today bravely exposing his flaws , his homeland as he tours it, mostly by bike, and his family s troubled history and extraordinary escape as boat people, with insight and humor While recommending the book to another Vietnamese expatriate, the father of one my students, he tells me about his own amazing journey to America, just as harrowing and dramatic as that of Pham s And he lends me a DVD of the excellent and moving movie about the boat people, Journey from the Fall Read the book see the movie. This was a moving and engaging memoir Mr Pham is very skilled at vivid description and is careful not to over sentimentalize the often deeply personal subject matter He is honest about his family and about his own feelings in a way that is highly admirable His quest to explore his own identity is something that many people can relate to Although his situation is rather specific, the book deals with themes that are fairly universal I would strongly recommend this title to anyone that enjoys being entertained while having your own judgments logically challenged. Andrew X Pham sCatfish and Mandala A Two Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnamtells the story of Andrew Pham, a young Vietnamese American man who travels to his hometown in search of finding himself due to a conflict between his adoptive land and his native land The book is based on a memoir that uses flashbacks during the war, when Pham s family were imprisoned in Vietnam However, escaping from Vietnam by boat, the family was able to start a new life in America In search of Pham s identity, he sets out on a bicycle voyage, facing obstacles and experiencing a sense of adventure, Pham tries to discover himself by comparing the American culture to the Vietnamese culture Pham explores the grounds of Vietnam despite the guilt of his sister s death, Chi who took her own life The book examines the similarities of culture and family, which intertwines with the search for cultural identity A particularly memorable scene is early in the book when Pham tells a story of a starting family, Thong and Anh who lives in a shack in a back alley of a fishing town in Phan Thiet, Vietnam, struggling to support their first new born baby With no money to afford medicine, a doctor, or clothes to keep their baby warm, their little girl became too sick and eventually died during the night, not even a year old yet.Ultimately, the story of Pham s adventure in Vietnam helped him discover his true cultural identity, bicycling from one city to another, being overcharged for being a Viet Kieu, and reminiscing about his family s past It all adds up to a tale of discovering one s self, a reality check for all that makes us realize who we really areCatfish and Mandalatells the story very uniquely, reminding us to stay true to yourself, an insight of never forgetting where you ve come from.During the course of my reading, not only was I able to enjoy the adventurous trip, but I was also able to spice up my geography skills, learning about the different cities, the history and the aftermath of the Vietnam War As a Vietnamese American myself, it s shameful to say that I had no idea a city like Phan Thiet existed in Vietnam until I read this book Following along the book, I had the chance to pick up the Vietnamese language as well as new vocabulary that I didn t know beforehand From chapter to chapter, the bicycling expedition had me reflecting on myselfCatfish and Mandalahad me question about my own true identity of whether or not I had lost my Vietnamese roots To have the fortunate opportunity to live the American Dream, adapting to the English language was essential which made me forget my native language Because of this book, it got me thinking of traveling solo to Vietnam in the future to regain my cultural identity, just like how Pham did I would definitely recommend this book because I believe it showcases a lot of emotional flashbacks and realistic events that everyone can relate to, especially from one Vietnamese American to the next Pham shares his bicycling trip to Vietnam to show his readers the country he grew up in, a place not only where he was born in, but where he came to visit to find his Vietnamese roots The book gives the reader a sensational, imaginative ride to travel alongside with the author as each chapter is read, which, in my opinion, is something not many books can give to a reader Vietnamese American Andrew Pham writes about his search for cultural identity in a book that is both a memoir and a biking travelogue He remembers the fall of Saigon, his father s imprisonment in a communist reeducation camp, and the family s escape from Vietnam in a leaky fishing boat when he was a ten year old After a stay in an Indonesian refugee camp, the family came to the United States and eventually settled in California Although he recognizes the sacrifices made by his parents, he also recounts how the Pham children were subjected to his father s temper and beatings The suicide of his transgendered sibling was the impetus for Andrew Pham s journey of self discovery.The author quit his job as an aerospace engineer, and traveled by bike up the Pacific Coast, through Japan, and up the length of Vietnam He visited important places in his family s history and found them completely changed While he had some enjoyable times, he also saw terrible poverty and extreme corruption Dysentery was an unwelcome companion over part of the trip He weaves together two story lines about his family and about his bike trip.He was called Viet kieu foreign Vietnamese in Vietnam, a slur by people who envy his success In America, he also feels like an outsider He experiences survivor guilt, explores his roots, and feels the pull of two cultures He still seems to be searching at the book s end and maybe it will be a lifelong search for who he is Laced with adventure and humor, this was an engaging story that held my interest.
writer, artist, athlete, lover of food, watcher of sunsets, engineer, distracted cyclist, ocean swimmer, teacher, student, ultralight pilot, walker of deserted beaches, planter of rice, occasional madman, admirer of beauty, believer of karma, perennial tourist, reader of souls, grinning fool, dreamer, wild at heart
- 344 pages
- Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam
- Andrew X. Pham
- 13 October 2019 Andrew X. Pham