I have a variety of odd and vague unappealing habits. One of them is reading one-star reviews on Goodreads. In the case of this book, one review of this book reads, in its entirety, “Just because you go on a cool vacation doesn't mean you have to write a book about it.”
Call me all hyper-sensitive, but that seems just a smidge unfair. I mean, as a child, the guy endures the danger and chaos of the lurching end of a war, his ...more
Andrew X. Pham’s Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam tells 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....more
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 ...more
In this case, Andrew Pham bicycles through Vietnam in search of his cultural roots. Along the way we are introduced to his family and a past that includes abuse, scandal, shame, and regret. Pham was a boy when his family emigrated from Vietnam via a rickety fishing boat in the middle of the night. He is in his mid- to ...more
I read this many years ago, around the time it first came out. From what I remember the language is beautiful. It is heartfelt and touching, yet somehow still remaining distant. I feel this is the point. After all, no matter how close humans get to figuring our own lives and humanity out, we never receive full disclosure, do we?
Sometimes I wonder if I went overseas to the places of my ancestors would I feel more at home? Would I find some lost part of my self that I left there? Would I make more ...more
Short version: an excellent account of the author's exploration of what it means to be both Vietnamese and American. Pham's quest to find himself reveals enormous insight into both Vietnamese and American culture; it helps that he is an excellent writer and pays no heed to political correctness -- there is no sugarcoating in Catfish and Mandala.
This ... this is what travel writing should be.
It occurs to me that this is my first travelogue! Anyways, I'm not sure why I wasn't drawn to this genre before, but if this is what travel writing is about - I'm completely hooked.
My rating is likely influenced by the fact that I've spent a lot of time in Vietnam this year, and finished the book in one of it's cafes. But beyond that, I felt the writing was fantastic and the identity crisis at its heart was truly engaging. I have a much richer understanding of Vietnam, and the struggle ...more
Our author takes a bicycle trip up the Western coast of the USA, through Japan, and then around Vietnam. Descriptions of his journey are interspersed with memories of his early childhood in ...more
I think the key note I took away from this is the importance of the human values of humor and tolerance. When understanding, sympathy, and agreement have yet to ...more
I started reading this on ...more
In "Catfish and Mandala", there is a story about the book's author, a self-centered young adult going on a "rebel's" journey to his homeland of Vietnam. This story was far too bitter and narcissistic to be enjoyable. The author really ...more
Not that it was unreadable or anything like that. In fact, I enjoyed it. (Another friend who visited me finished the book in a day.) It's just that the story never developed a tempo/pace that propelled me forward.
It's a book about identity and history, about self, about family and all the things we don't say but wish was understood. The book is also ...more