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The Gangster We Are All Looking For

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  1,996 ratings  ·  220 reviews
This acclaimed novel reveals the life of a Vietnamese family in America through the knowing eyes of a child finding her place and voice in a new country.

In 1978 six refugees—a girl, her father, and four “uncles”—are pulled from the sea to begin a new life in San Diego. In the child’s imagination, the world is transmuted into an unearthly realm: she sees everything
Paperback, 176 pages
Published May 11th 2004 by Anchor (first published 2003)
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Average rating 3.58  · 
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 ·  1,996 ratings  ·  220 reviews

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Jun 16, 2007 rated it liked it
As novels go, The Gangster We Are All Looking For -- Le Thi Diem Thuy's beautifully told account of a Vietnamese immigrant family -- is soaking wet.

The sea is a constant, foreboding presence. Bodies are washing ashore on the first page and they are washing ashore on the last page. A man tells his beloved that if she would marry him, "he would pull the moon out of the sky and turn it into a pool for her to wash her feet in." "Bad water" is blamed for the death of a young boy, and a simple glass

Kind of a random pick for me and although it's rather short, it's a very interesting read. Not a ton of substance but it's a nice slice-of-life type of story. I probably should have read this in summer though, especially since it made me homesick for San Diego weather while we've currently got freezing rain falling here on the east coast.
Apr 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels
poetic novel about Vietnamese immigrants to USA (California). Told from the p.o.v. of a young girl I enjoyed her descriptions of the weird place she's ended up in, and the behaviour of those around her (particularly teenage boys). Slim, almost plotless (although there is the story of her family's disintegration under the pressure) but full of memorable imagery.
Nov 23, 2008 added it
I just read this book for the 5th time. I have to admit that I did not like the book when I first read it, but with each reading, my appreciation for this book increases. I love its poetic language and fragmented narrative. Here is one of my favorite passages:

"After I ran away, I phoned my parents only a couple of times, to let them know I was all right. The last call was from the airport, to tell them that I was moving to the East Coast to go to school. My father wasn't home. My mother said,
Oct 15, 2013 rated it it was ok
I had to read this for my Advance Fiction class. This is not a bad book, in fact I love how the voice stays true to six year old narrator. However, this book didn't leave me with the feeling of "man, I am so sad that book is over", ya know?
Jun 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
This doesn't meet up into a cohesive narrative and leaves a lot unsaid, which I want to suggest is a strategy for not allowing narratives of tragedy to trace a myth of finding wholeness or a home in America. There is so much mystery surrounding her father's grief and the parts of his life she never heard about and it is sort of an obsession. Though he is directly described in the time they were alone together as solicitous, there are hints that he could have been abusive. We are left to wonder ...more
Teachers4socialjustice Book
Here are some discussion questions that came out of our book club:

1. How does the passage on p. 95 beginning with “…two dogs chasing each other’s tail…” describe the parents’ relationship?
2. What is the significance of the title?
3. How does this book showcase father and daughter relationships?
4. This novel focuses on the places in between such as pages 109 and p. 37. Does the reader always know where these places are?
5. How is this novel about running away to find yourself? Look at p. 158 (“…I
Aug 02, 2010 rated it it was ok
Reading this book was for an English class, and I'm very glad for it, as I doubt I would have come across it otherwise.

I've read a handful of books about Vietnamese people living in America after the war, my favorite being Catfish and Mandala by Andrew X. Pham. This book is focused more on the child's view of the story, specifically the relationship between the narrator and her father, who she refers to as Ba. In the first part of the book Ba is a sort of protector as she struggles to understand
May 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The greatest book I have ever read. It is so beautiful.

"In Vietnamese, the word for water and the word for a nation, a country, and a homeland are one and the same: nu'ó'c."

"Ba and I were connected to the four uncles, not by blood but by water."

"Ba's voice echoes from deep down like a frog singing at the bottom of a well. His voice is water moving through a reed pipe in the middle of a sad tune. And the sad voice is always asking and answering itself. It calls out and then comes running in. It
Nov 10, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2003
Today--speedily even by my standards--I read thuy lê's new book The Gangster We Are All Looking For. It is one of those new novels-in-stories, or stories-as-a-novel pieces that are so popular now. It reminded me primarily of two other books about the Asian-American experience: When the Emperor Was Divine and The Woman Warrior.

lê, who isn't into capitalization, has written a quasi-autobiographical series of vignettes about a young Vietnamese girl in California. It includes scenes from when she
Sep 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
The personal history of le thi diem thuy is certainly one worth telling. She was born in Vietnam at the height of American involvement in their war. Two of her siblings drowned during her childhood. Her oldest brother drowned in the ocean in Vietnam, and a sister drowned in a Malaysian refugee camp. At the age of six, le and her father were picked up by an American naval ship and placed in a refugee camp in Singapore. Eventually they would be reunited with her mother and a sister in southern ...more
Jul 13, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: year-of-women
This book, a fictionalized memoir of a Vietnamese girl who settles in San Diego, was selected for the One Book, One San Diego initiative. The book plays fast and loose with time and memory and feels like at least two different books smushed together. The first is a pretentious rendering of the protagonist's childhood that I found about as meaningful as the plastic bag dancing in the wind in "American Beauty" (which is to say prettily imagined but lacking something in essentials). In fact, it ...more
Feb 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I am always interested in immigrant stories and in the Vietnamese-American community, so this was a good choice for me. Le's prose is almost like reading a poem. She weaves a lot of memories and experiences of the protagonist together to create a story that works. I loved this book and read it in just a few days.
Feb 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Good book...compelling story of what it is like to adapt to a foreign culture with different ideals of assimilation between family members. Trying to stay true to cultural richness but striving to be accepted by your "new" culture is difficult & confusing.
Oct 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
You know that moving feeling of the ocean that lingers inside your belly after a long swim in the ocean? It is that same lingering feeling I have in me after reading The Gangster We Are All Looking For, by lê thi diem thúy. I think it will remain with me for a while.
Samantha Orrange
Feb 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The descriptions in this book and loss of time were absolutely beautiful. This author could describe absolutely anything and I'd devour it. It was very rich and touching with the perfect and not so perfect moments captured suspended in time.
Daniel Polansky
A dream-like depiction of the childhood and early adolescence of a Vietnamese immigrant in South California. Lyrical and evocative, I’ll keep my eye out for more from the author.
Harolyn Obligacion
Finished it in a few hours, short read. I found some parts confusing. Not much story to look forward to in every page.
I wish I could write like this.
Lindsay Hetzel
Nov 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the most complex works I’ve ever read, as well as one of the most BEAUTIFULLY written. I’m still processing everything as we speak... 5 stars easily.
Jason Andrea
Nov 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: always-reading
‘The Gangster’ of Prose
Jason Andrea

In 1978 a splintered refugee family washed up on the sun-kissed beaches of San Diego. A sea odyssey. For the sake of survival, and a better life. From the South China Sea to America. That was the ultimate decision by Ba. And one that would define his small family forever. Landing in the mundane, lackluster apartment community of Linda Vista, San Diego, the family begins to assimilate.

It seems as though the plight of the refugee will always be part of America’s
At less than 200 pages, I could not get invested in any of the characters and was not able to piece the different parts of the story together. The author's poetic style was a little over my head. I really wanted to like this book but it was not for me.
Mar 29, 2019 rated it liked it
I put this book on my "To Read" list since I read about it in our local newspaper. It was in the paper because the story is about a Vietnamese girl and her family that came to San Diego as immigrants following the end of the Vietnam War. The girl and her father (and 4 uncles?) came first via a boat departure from Vietnam and then got picked up for transit to the United States. The girl's mother was able to get to the US two years later. Thuy is an accomplished writer as her work is quite good. ...more
Dana Clinton
Aug 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Lê Thi Diem Thuy's short novel The Gangster We are all Looking For was a quick read. It purports to be a novel but certainly has the feel of a biography/memoir given what little we know about the author from the cover. In it, a young girl recounts her family saga, her father and she escaping by boat from Vietnam after the war and ending up resettled in southern California. Her mother is temporarily left behind but joins them later. The story moves forward more by suggestion than actual ...more
Jul 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Multiple Book Riot 2017 Reader Harder categories:
5.Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative.
10.Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location. (some parts are literally right up the road from me)

First fiction book I've read in a while. This book was fine (sorry if that sounds like I'm damning with faint praise). I liked the last two chapters better than the preceding ones -- I can appreciate that the first-person narrator wrote the earlier chapters from the
Yong Hoon
Apr 23, 2013 rated it it was ok
I think the low rating might be due to the fact that I have read so many stream-of-consciousness books for this class (Modern Literature). This was a fairly easy (though also very emotional) read, written in an extremely conversational style but full of vivid descriptions. It reminded me a lot of books like To the Lighthouse and Speak, Memory, though it somehow seemed less accomplished than those works. I can't really say that anything in the book was bad, but I simply didn't find it as engaging ...more
Sep 24, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2011
I love the fact that my new city does a "One book, One San Diego" incentive. However, I saw that one of the three selections for next year is one I've already read and wasn't impressed with, so right off the bat I had my doubts. Also, can we just talk about how it's sort of lame that after, what, 5 years of choosing just one book, they go with the top 3 nominations for 2012? Make a commitment, SD! Stick to your guns! Anyway.

This short memoir did absolutely nothing for me. Reading it was like
Dec 08, 2010 rated it it was ok
It's certainly poetic, and perhaps this is why I only found it to be an OK book, because poetry always makes me feel intellectually stunted. The author has some beautiful language and descriptions of events in her life, but most of the time I found myself frustrated because I couldn't get the symbolism that I assumed was there and figured I must be too slow to understand. Also, from what I've heard, this started out as one short story in a literary magazine (the title story) and she was urged to ...more
Apr 22, 2011 rated it liked it
This is a short book...really just a sampling of the thoughts and impressions and memories of a young girl who has come to America from Vietnam. It doesn't flow smoothly from one ecene to the next--it is not meant to. It is very much like the way a youth summarizes their life--fleeting between fantasy and struggle, imagination and stark reality. The challenges she faces (war, escape from Vietnam, death of a family member, adjusting to a new language and culture)are painted in a rather poetic ...more
Feb 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
I like this book. It is a very creative novel. The language is beautiful, the detail in the actions and observances. The act of naming, who is given names and who is unnamed, from the beginning with the child, her Ba, and the four "uncles". The ending fell a little flat to me. She really conveys childhood, immigration both of which involve a struggle to understand the surrounding social context but also a close sacred circle where everything is as it should be. The book reminds me more of a ...more
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Lisa's Team SPRIN...: Lit Circles A 6 6 Feb 14, 2017 10:46AM  
Class of 2014: The Gangster We Are All Looking For 2 11 Jan 24, 2014 12:31PM  

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Lê Thi Diem Thúy left Vietnam on a boat with her father in 1978 and grew up in San Diego, California. In 1990, she moved to Massachusetts and enrolled in Hampshire College. After graduating in 1993, Thúy traveled to Paris to research French colonial picture postcards made in the early 1900's.

Today, she is an author and performance artist based in Northampton. She recently finished a one-year
“When I grow up I am going to be the gangster we are all looking for.” 7 likes
“I don't know how time moves or which of our sorrows or our desires it is able to wash away.” 7 likes
More quotes…