Monkey Bridge
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Monkey Bridge

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3.35 of 5 stars 3.35  ·  rating details  ·  448 ratings  ·  54 reviews
Hailed by critics and writers as powerful, important fiction, Monkey Bridge charts the unmapped territory of the Vietnamese American experience in the aftermath of war. Like navigating a monkey bridge?a bridge, built of spindly bamboo, used by peasants for centuries?the narrative traverses perilously between worlds past and present, East and West, in telling two interlocki...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published June 1st 1998 by Penguin Books (first published 1997)
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Steve Woods
I really enjoyed this book. Vietnam is an integral part of who I am. After a tour of duty with the Australian Army in 1970-71 I have been back many times. I made close friends with a number of people during my tour, among them soldiers, farmers, a scholar, a monk and many, many children. There is so much here that strikes a chord for me. The sense of something valuable, some continuity having been cut violently in 1975 is a mark that has never left me. I had a feeling of having lost so much, peo...more
Maggie
Rating 4.5. This is a beautifully written, semi-autobiographical novel about immigration, coming-of-age, love, mother-daughter relationships, and so much more.

The story is told from two views, mother and daughter, though the daughter’s view predominates. The mother’s story is conveyed in letters and diary entries and appears rarely, but is the more lyrical writing and very effective and affecting.

Both women escaped the war in Vietnam and went to the United States about three years prior to the...more
Louann Reid
Just finished this last night . . . incredible writing. I learned so much about Vietnam and the life of a child/teenage immigrant to America. But the book is about spirit, love, secrets withheld, landscape, life, and death. When I heard the author speak last November, someone asked her how it felt to live in a country that had occupied her home. How do you answer that? She said it was complicated, of course, because this country had given her so much, too. I think she was being polite; this book...more
Helen
A Monkey bridge is the narrow, swinging bridge that crosses rivers and ravines in Vietnam. It becomes a metaphor in this beautiful story that connects past and present, East and West through war and peace. It also connects the stories of a mother and her daughter as they forge a new life in the U.S. after the war in Vietnam. The book often reminded me of the lovely, misty scrolls as the writing is very visual. It is a good book to carry in a purse for long stays in waiting rooms!
Venus Smurf
I read this years ago as part of my Master's program, and I loved it then. The author does some amazing things with the language, and the plot itself was clever.

I really did love the writing style. The language is often simply beautiful, and I found the Vietnamese perspective fascinating. It's not one we get often. I also loved the way the characters unfolded, how perceptions often were completely wrong, how skillfully the author wove Thanh's narrative into the tale. It was very, very impressiv...more
Jen
This was one of the most boring books I have ever read. Every page was a slow and heavy with pointless descriptions and annoying tangents. If I didn't have to read this for class, I would have given up on it within the first ten pages. The characters are neither memorable nor relatable, and there is a very limited plotline, which could have been told efficiently with only 50 pages as opposed to 260. Terrible.
Becky
Mar 01, 2011 Becky rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommended to Becky by: book club
Meh.

The first half of the book is like reading a really convoluted dream sequence. I couldn't even tell if the main character was male or female for like 30 pages. Everything is from the point of view of the main character, Mai, who is a Vietnamese immigrant in her senior year of high school. On top of the hardships that go along with immigration, she's dealing with her mother's failing physical and mental health, the regular mother-daughter misunderstandings, as well as the sorrow of an uniden...more
Stephanie
When I read this in high school, one of my group mates threw the book on the table and disgustedly said, "This book should have only been the last third. The rest doesn't do anything!" Ever since I've wanted to re-read it and figure out what went wrong. Now I realize that she probably just prefers plot fiction. ;) As an avid fan of so-called 'literature', the fact that I liked this book in the face of her disgust frustrated me. Was there something wrong with me?

No, nothing wrong with me. I just...more
Beth
I thought I'd never get to the end of this short book; it dragged so! Perhaps it needed another revision, or a better hand at editing. As it is, it reads like a draft--disconnected bits of memory forced together to make a story that, in the end, isn't as engaging as it has the potential to be.

Ms. Cao is fond of jarring metaphors. Jarring metaphors can sometimes be powerful, but not in this book. They are simply alienating as Ms. Cao uses them. Here is a sampling:

"The sound of water flowing throu...more
Arianna
This book was ... interesting. I really only read it because my sister (hi, Bethany!) told me part of it was based in our hometown. Well, that was a bust, because it was clear that the author had never even been there - that she just wanted to choose a rich, suburban, New England town in which to set certain characters. Fine, though. I got over that. The writing itself was rather slow at times, and I didn't thoroughly appreciate the novel until the end. When the mother tells her story, and certa...more
Will
"The smell of blood, warm and wet, rose from the floor and settled into the solemn stillness of the hospital air. I could feel it like an unhurried chill in my joints, a slow-moving red that smoldered in a floating ether of dull, gray smoke. All around me, the bare walls expanded and converged into a relentless stretch of white. The bedsheet white of the hallway was an anxious white I knew by heart. White, the color of mourning, the standard color for ghosts, bones, and funerals, swallowed in th...more
Sirpa Grierson
Having grown up with the Vietnam War, I really have been surprised by how little we were told about the culture and the displacement that occured with the split of the country into two. As a Canadian at the time, I heard of peace protests and encountered draft dogers in Vancouver while I went to university. Photos in the media captured a little of the agony and suffering of the Vietnamese people as well as the confusion, loss, and anger of GIs who returned, not as heros, but as a lost generation...more
J
When I traveled to Thailand I made a poor, last minute effort to find some south east asian authors to read on my trip (which involved a lot of traveling within the country). I ended up reading travel/expat writing instead and kicked myself for not starting my search earlier.
When Monkey Bridge showed up on a discount table at the bookstore, I picked it up out of guilt and intrigue about the cover photo. The title font scared me and the back cover summary was too vague to grab me.

Thank goodness...more
William
This book is packed with thought and provokes the reader to engage with ideas in the way that autobiographical fiction can, but more conventional memoirs cannot. There's a whole layer of the story of the Vietnam War - the story of South Vietnamese immigrants - which gets lost in the landscape of Vietnam War literature; most works approach the war from an American perspective, and the few which are from the Vietnamese are those from or allied with the North. The moment, early in the novel, contra...more
Mimi
Should be a 4-star rating, but 3 stars overall.

I went into this book with expectations, and while Cao's writing is great and full of subtle emotional intensity, the ending left me hanging. It felt unsatisfying the way nonfictional accounts of tragedies left you hanging in the balance. There's an uneasiness, a quiet disturbing sense of uneasiness that I left after reading. The feeling didn't go away for some time. If that was the intended effect, then the text is successful in that sense. But if...more
Caroline
I think the second-generation immigrant narrative is a fascinating genre, but the protagonist here is frankly super whiny. The twist is pretty obvious, and even though this is a very short novel it drags. I give it three stars mostly on the strength of the truly lovely writing.
Angela
A beautifully written story about a daughter and mother who immigrate to the US towards the end of the Vietnam war. It's a story of war, loss, and family secrets all encompassed by the difficult relationship between the mother and daughter. No spoilers, but the end is absolutely heart breaking. Best book I've read so far this year.
Mandy Tanksley
Lan Cao's "Monkey Bridge" is not the easiest book to digest. It's one of those titles that you'll like or you won't simply due to how it's written not necessarily because of the story itself. This was my first step into the world of Vietnamese fiction, but I had read several books from other Asian countries so it wasn't as if I didn't know what I was getting myself into. Lan Cao tries to tell the reader about living between worlds: that of the family's home country and that of their new one. At...more
Helen
Read for mother-daughter book group (for 12 year old girls). The book was a bit advanced for them, especially the construction of it (travelling back and forth in time, etc.) but, in the end, we had a wonderful discussion about it. It opened up so many topics for us: the history of Vietnam, the Vietnamese war, mother-daughter relationships, the immigrant experience, when things aren't as they seem.

My appreciation for the book grew after I finished it and reflected on it and from the quality of...more
Mo
Jul 15, 2007 Mo rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone seeking knowledge about the Vietnam War and its aftermath
Let me preface my review by saying: This is definitely important literature that captures the pain of the aftermath of living through the Vietnam War and then coming to America. However, I found this book to go along a bit too slowly for my taste. At times, I found myself speed-reading through just to get finished (which means I am not savoring the details or the beauty of the language - a really good book makes me slow down to savor each drop of language and leaves me wishing for more after the...more
Samantha
I found this book to be both disturbing and oddly moving. Cao's language is poetic, but not overly flowery. The characters are well-developed and beautifully described.
Mai Thompson
A beautifully written and poignant novel about the Vietnamese-American experience.
Nan
A fast read that is also quite poetic. I appreciated Lan Cao's intimate, detailed look at the burgeoning Vietnamese-American community of the mid-1970s as well as her contrasting languid and distressing Vietnam scenes before Mai and her mom fled. I also agree with the naysayers here who found the last couple of chapters rushed, and occasionally found the mom's voice either too much like Mai's, or too much like another reminiscing mom's from The Joy Luck Club (not that that's a bad book).
Sandra
I learned alot about Vietnam and their customs, while reading this memoir of past and present. I wasn't sure I'd like it but I did. *Its an extraordinary novel that charts the mysterious terrain of Vietnamese American experience in the aftermath of war...as quoted from the back cover of the book.
Its probably not for everyone, but if you have an interest in Vietnam and that time of war you may enjoy reading it. Its a story of betrayal, political intrigue, family secrets and revenge.
Andrew Herren
I enjoyed this glimpse of Vietnam that came from a perspective other than an American soldier.

I will say that while I loved the images of a peaceful Vietnam, the story never really took off for me. I knew what was going to happen early on in the story.

I think this is a good story about what a mother's (or parent's) love entails. The final selfless act to free her daughter of her haunted past was hard to understand and admirable at the same time.

3.5 stars!
Elaine
I was struck immediately by the vivid imagery and the inner demons of the young narrator, but what I didn't like was that the internal story told by the mother was exactly the same stylistically as that of her daughter's story. I found this unrealistic, and thought her voice should have been more pronounced. Also, the big "reveal" at the end was not terribly surprising, and was rather rushed through, so the end was, unfortunately, rather anti-climactic.
Fred Daly
A girl and her mother who escaped Vietnam in 1975 make a new life in America. The writing is generally good (occasionally a little over-written), and most of the story is compelling. There's a secret (What happened to the grandfather? Why didn't he come with them?), but most of what makes the book work is the description of life in Vietnam during the war, and of the complex process of assimilating (or not).
David
As a Vietnam Veteran and someone that is entranced by the country of Vietnam, past, present and future, this was one of the best books I have read about the Vietnamese wars for Independence because although it is mostly about southern Vietnamese that do get to the USA it is also about all Vietnamese and there struggle for Independence...from France, from the USA, from Russia, from China. A must read!
Carlos Burga
This book manages to take a reader as unfamiliar and removed from the Vietnam War and its consequences as myself and give him a powerful sensation of the horrors that happen before he was born. Lao takes us through the eyes of a young immigrant and lets us look at the follies of war. A powerful story which I recommend to those people who lack a connection or idea of the Vietnam War era.
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Lan is the author of the critically acclaimed novel Monkey Bridge, published by Viking in 1997. Her second novel, The Lotus and the Storm will be published by Viking Press in August 2014. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College and Yale Law School and worked as a litigation and corporate attorney in New York City for many years until she joined legal academia as a law professor.
More about Lan Cao...
Everything You Need to Know About Asian-American History: 2004 Edition The Lotus and the Storm

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