Phyllis's Reviews > I Love Yous Are for White People

I Love Yous Are for White People by Lac Su
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May 09, 10

Read in May, 2010

The title and the reviews on Goodreads sucked me in, and I'm glad. I've known families from other cultures (including European ones) who did not say "I love you." The chapter in which the title is explained is so painful, I wished I could give Lac a hug--or give *any* kid a hug who's going through that kind of isolation.

If your edition has the "P.S." section, read that, too--even the part about the favorite songs. His story about Whitney Houston's "The Greatest Love of All" is heartbreaking.

Like most memoirs, this book isn't all sad. Some is funny, and some is gross, and some is educational--one of my favorite parts to read is his reconstruction of the events that catapulted his family out of Vietnam. I would like to read more about that part of our national and world history.

I am bummed that he counts among his greatest inspirations the memoirist Augusten Burroughs. I think Burroughs is a fine satirist and I love his novel Sellevision. And I enjoyed his first memoir the first time I read it. But on re-reading it, I became unconvinced that it was truthful, and I've been unable to enjoy his memoirs since then. Burroughs seems to have come out favorably in the lawsuit that alleged his work was phony, but I never got over the sense that he was making stuff up--stuff that hurt people. I did not get that same sense from Su's book, but I was disappointed that he views Burroughs' work uncritically.

I don't question the major facts of the book, but a detail that rang a bit false was his caricature of a white person who helped him after he'd been beaten up. He was trying to portray the guy as corny. I don't doubt that the guy had that corniness about him, nor that Lac picked up on it in the moment because of his precocious street wisdom. But the dialog he gave the guy to illustrate the corniness rang false. I don't expect a memoirist to accurately recreate dialog from 20 or 30 years ago. But the stuff one makes up to fill in the blanks should ring true. Bad dialog in a memoir is like a bad line in a movie. It takes you out of the story.

Also, a minor quibble that says more about the editing than about Su: I'm not the kind of reader who looks for this kind of thing, but I noticed two mis-spelled homonyms. ("Peak" instead of "peek" and "pour" instead of "pore.") His publisher should have treated this story with the respect it deserves and fixed these minor but distracting mistakes.

Big ups to Lac Su for creating a happy life and for chronicling the sadness and danger that preceded the happiness.
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