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Monkey Bridge

3.42  ·  Rating Details  ·  648 Ratings  ·  73 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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(showing 1-30 of 1,362)
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Should be a 4-star rating, but 3 stars overall.

I still don't know what to make of this book. It's been some years since I read it, and I've had a lot of time to digest it, but I still don't know what to make of it.

I went into this book with some expectations--how could I not? It's ambitious and has been praised for ground breaking achievements. While Cao's writing is great and full of subtle emotional intensity, the ending left me hanging. It felt uncomfortable and unsettling the way nonfictiona
Feb 23, 2011 Jen rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Steve Woods
Feb 26, 2014 Steve Woods rated it really liked it
Shelves: vietnam-war
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
Mar 01, 2011 Becky rated it it was ok
Recommended to Becky by: book club

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
Oct 28, 2011 Maggie rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, surprised-me
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
Louann Reid
Jan 03, 2009 Louann Reid rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 10, 2015 Rebecca rated it it was amazing
literal tears
Aug 18, 2009 Helen rated it really liked it
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
Bryon Butler
Mar 01, 2015 Bryon Butler rated it really liked it
In 1996, around the time Monkey Bridge was published, my family and I moved near to Mt. Holyoke, Massachusetts, where the fictional Mai resided some years before when in college. What beauty this part of the United States has: classic Americana. Far from my mind was any vietnamistic thought. Yet I finished the book impacted by Mai Ngyuen’s harrowing, tragic story and history, intertwined and interconnected with the great tragedy of the Vietnam War. The story of her family’s destruction: its down ...more
Mar 07, 2015 Kelly rated it really liked it
A beautifully written semi-autobiographical side of a war that Americans rarely have the opportunity to hear from. For many Americans, Vietnam is little more than a war location, not a country rich with history, traditions, and colonial takeovers that span long before America was even a country. Monkey Bridge allows readers a glimpse into a world so unlike the fantastical horrors depicted in movies such as "The Deer Hunter" and "Apocalypse Now." This story shows the emotional impact on families ...more
Dec 25, 2014 Melinda rated it it was amazing
I found this book to be truly engaging. This was the first book I've read about the Vietnam War era from the perspective of a Vietnamese woman who lived it. Lan Cao's use of the narrative was very effective in presenting the different experiences for the same event of the mother & daughter. While I've read various books about the era & its after effects, those books have been written by American authors. This would be an excellent way to teach high school students about a time in history ...more
Nov 11, 2015 Paige rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Aug 16, 2011 Beth rated it did not like it
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
Dec 27, 2011 Arianna rated it liked it
Shelves: borrowed
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
Sep 29, 2013 Will rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
"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
Sep 22, 2014 Trudi rated it really liked it
Because I remain fascinated by Vietnam and the Vietnam War, I was very interested in "Monkey Bridge." Beautifully written, it's the story of a Vietnamese girl whose mother sends her to the United States with an American GI who has befriended the family. This is to get the daughter out of harm's way as the Vietnam War is winding down. The mother escapes on the last day the Americans are in Vietnam. It is their story in the States with flashbacks to the good times and the bad in Vietnam.
Jan 16, 2012 J rated it really liked it
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
Dec 08, 2014 Tanya rated it liked it
A tragic, vivid account that depicts post-traumatic effects of the Vietnam War and of assimilation into America. The generations of Vietnamese women characters outline practices of patriarchy, self-sacrifice, conformity to a non-native culture, and overall, suffering. Nevertheless, this novel beautifully, painfully envisions the mostly unheard of struggles of Vietnamese women across generations.
Aug 27, 2015 Judy rated it liked it
Memoir. Novel. Historical Fiction. However you perceive "Monkey Bridge", it's worth the read. Lan Cao intertwines her memories of growing up during the Vietnam War with her transition to life in America. More than that, she gives us a vision of life in Vietnam from her parents, grandparents, and soldiers' views. You're left seeing all sides of this senseless war, and for me, a deep pit in my stomach for what Lan Cao was handed as a child.
Nov 07, 2012 William rated it really liked it
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
Mar 19, 2015 Toobuffrn rated it really liked it
though at times convoluted and difficult to follow, this was a beautifully written book and a beautiful story. it spoke to both the mother in me and the daughter in me. it was a book that taught me much that i did not know about the Vietnam War...and a book that spoke volumes about the truths that we often search for our entire lives.
Jun 15, 2014 Caroline rated it liked it
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.
Feb 04, 2014 Angela rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014-ap-reading
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
Feb 05, 2010 Helen rated it really liked it
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
Karem Delgado
Apr 29, 2015 Karem Delgado rated it really liked it
Este es uno de esos libros en los que aprendes sobre un país y su gente y que te llevan a conocer de primera mano la riqueza que tienen aquellos lugares que actualmente sufren del estigma de la violencia.
Nov 07, 2014 Iris rated it really liked it
Shelves: asia, war, read-in-2014
Beautiful book. Beautiful prose, with a certain lightness it uncovers the continuing horrors of the Vietnam war, both during and after, through the lens of a mother and daughter, from different worlds.
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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...

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