For anyone who has ever felt like they don't belong, Sigh, Gone shares an irreverent, funny, and moving tale of displacement and assimilation woven together with poignant themes from beloved works of classic literature.
In 1975, during the fall of Saigon, Phuc Tran immigrates to America along with his family. By sheer chance they land in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, a small town where the Trans struggle to assimilate into their new life. In this coming-of-age memoir told through the themes of great books such as The Metamorphosis, The Scarlet Letter, The Iliad, and more, Tran navigates the push and pull of finding and accepting himself despite the challenges of immigration, feelings of isolation, and teenage rebellion, all while attempting to meet the rigid expectations set by his immigrant parents.
Appealing to fans of coming-of-age memoirs such as Fresh Off the Boat, Running with Scissors, or tales of assimilation like Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Displaced and The Refugees, Sigh, Gone explores one man’s bewildering experiences of abuse, racism, and tragedy and reveals redemption and connection in books and punk rock. Against the hairspray-and-synthesizer backdrop of the ‘80s, he finds solace and kinship in the wisdom of classic literature, and in the subculture of punk rock, he finds affirmation and echoes of his disaffection. In his journey for self-discovery Tran ultimately finds refuge and inspiration in the art that shapes—and ultimately saves—him.
Even though I am also Vietnamese American, I came into this book with low expectations based on the latter half of its title. Punk rock? Boring. Great books? He’s probably just talking about old white people books. Fight to fit in? Why would anyone want to do that. However, I ended up loving the heck out of this memoir and found myself immersed in Phuc Tran’s story. He writes about how in 1975, during the fall of Saigon, he immigrates to America with his family to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, a small town where the Tran clan struggles to fit in. There, with the help of literature like The Iliad, The Scarlet Letter, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Tran navigates trying to create himself amidst feelings of isolation, stresses from immigration, and disconnect from his parents. Though the book may appeal to Vietnamese and Asian Americans especially, I sense that anyone who resonates with themes related to finding yourself, family, and healing through art will enjoy it.
I felt so struck by and appreciative of Tran’s honesty in Sigh, Gone. While a lot of memoirs are honest in that their authors disclose what happened in their lives, I found Tran’s writing and perspective so unpretentious and so open, both capturing his younger self’s youthful innocence while viewing this past with gentle yet hard-earned wisdom. I loved reading about his initial desire to fit in with his friend group and using the punk scene to do so, how he received warmth and caring from a lot of his teachers (though not all of them, because at least one was outright racist), and how he connected with books to make sense of himself, his world, and his next steps in life. Even though certain experiences didn’t resonate with my own – like how he tried to fit in and eventually did fit in with other guys, lol at my gay femme adolescence – Tran’s earnest portrayal of his childhood and teen years won me over nonetheless. He does a lot of showing and not telling and the many descriptive scenes in the memoir made it all seem so real.
I also loved how he wrote about his relationship with his parents. Fellow Asians, Asian Americans, and Viet folks please comment what you thought of these sections of the book because I felt such a kindship with Tran when reading these parts. As someone with a complicated and estranged relationship with my own parents, I so enjoyed how Tran portrays his parents in such a nuanced way and avoids shallow stereotypes about Asian immigrant parents. He writes about their sometimes failed, sometimes successful attempts to connect with him and his brother, the racism they experienced (omg I felt my blood literally boil when he wrote about his father’s coworkers’ racist taunts, UGH), as well as his father’s violence toward him. There were many times where I had to put the book down because of how much his insights resonated with my own experience. I feel like Tran’s depiction of his parents feels even more powerful given his own implicit acceptance of these complications – the ways they did sacrifice and show love toward him and the ways they didn’t understand him, both as a consequence of immigrating and assimilating to a new culture as well as his father’s brutality.
On a personal note, I feel deeply grateful to Tran for writing this book because it helps me feel more connected to my Vietnamese heritage and more understanding of my parents’ experience. There are a lot of differences in my life and Tran’s, such that I was born in the United States and grew up in the early 2000’s whereas he grew up in the 1980’s or so. Reading this book made me appreciate how I had more access to Asian media growing up, like anime (e.g., Naruto) and K-Pop, as well as how I grew up in an area where my high school was 40% Asian, so I was lucky not to have felt ostracized much because of being Asian/Vietnamese. However, I totally vibed with using art to escape and to find myself, just in a gayer way (whereas he got into punk in high school I got into Lady Gaga, whereas he got into literature I got into YA especially queer YA). Even writing this review I feel emotional, I’m gonna go jog to “Lovesick Girls” by Blackpink right after posting this.
Five stars for sure, one of my favorite memoirs ever and I’m so looking forward to reading more Vietnamese and Asian American writers! There were moments where my social justice/academic psychologist in-training brain said, hm, I wish he’d dive a little deeper into interrogating whether being American is something to aspire toward. Especially with the anti-Asian hate that’s getting more publicity, I don’t think Asians should have to assimilate to be like, not attacked (Tran doesn’t necessarily say we should assimilate, just something I’m reflecting on.) He does name and process the racism he experiences which I felt glad about. I’ll end on the note that it’s so nice to read such a self-aware memoir from an Asian American man, as Asian American men are so often stereotyped as not having rich interior worlds, which of course is untrue.
How do I nominate Sigh, Gone for Goodreads Choice Awards Best Memoir of 2020?
Memoirs are hit or miss with me. It seems like everyone and their Uncle Joe are writing memoirs these days. There seems to be no criteria for who can publish one. Everyone is special, right? Everyone's unique. Well, perhaps we take this "everyone's special" business too far. Yeh, maybe you're special, but that doesn't make you interesting. It doesn't automatically qualify you as someone whose story is just so damn remarkable that people want to read about it.
It's like with other books - I don't want to read the same story over and over and over. It gets boring. If you don't have something unique to share or something deep to make me think, I'm probably not gonna be interested in your memoir. No offense; I'm just not interested.
Fortunately, Phuc Tran's memoir isn't some tedious run-of-the-mill blah-blah-blah-aren't-I-something-special memoir. His memoir is good! It's interesting and philosophical and entertaining. It's a memoir worth reading!
Now, if you're the average English speaker who is reading this, you probably pronounced his name as "Fook". Because names are so important, I want to tell you the correct way. It's "FUHp?"
If you're like me, you'll spend the entire book reminding yourself it's Fuhp? and not Fook.
However, don't worry if you don't remember. Growing up, Phuc Americanized it for everyone outside his family, so I'm sure he'll forgive you if you see it as Fook. I don't want the pronunciation of his name to put anyone off his book because you'd be missing out on a great memoir all because you say Fook and not Fuhp? and hey, tomatoes to-mah-tohs, right? (Though one's name is more important than what we call a piece of fruit, as long as you say it in your head, who's to know?)
Phuc immigrated to America from Viet Nam when he was 2 years old. His family moved to a small town in Pennsylvania where Phuc and his brother were the only Asians in their school. Racism being as American as apple pie, Phuc was on the receiving end of stares and questions, slurs and fear. He struggled to leave behind his heritage and to be seen as "American". He wondered how he could explain to his younger brother that "some people would never be able to see us as just people? That we were symbols of a painful and confusing war? Symbols of the refugees they saw on TV? Symbols of what they were afraid of?".
Young Phuc found his place in a group of punk kids and it was fun to read about their antics and to remember 80s punk culture through his experiences.
As he gets older, Phuc finds himself in literature and with each chapter of this memoir he relates a different classic book to incidents in his life.
The author exquisitely details his struggles living between two cultures; feeling misunderstood by everyone, especially his parents (something I think most people experience growing up); dealing with and confronting racism; and trying to find himself in a world that wants to see only a stereotype. He writes of his feelings of alienation and self-hatred, and how he came to find and accept himself.
There was not one boring page in this book. It's one of those memoirs where you feel like the author is a friend of yours and that you're sitting in a cafe somewhere, sharing a cup of coffee and listening as he fills you in on what's been going on in his life.
Sigh, Gone is endearing and philosophical, funny and sad. A just all-around good book. I'm not male and I'm not Asian-American. I'm not straight and I didn't grow up in a bilingual household, nor any of many other things the author describes. But I could still relate to Phuc on so many levels because he describes everything so well and because underneath the trivialities, we're all human.
This is a remarkable memoir. Brilliantly written, deep, questioning, witty, enjoyable, entertaining.
Did I mention I want to nominate this for best memoir of the year?
"Being an outsider because of my race was a burden that I didn't choose...I hated the racism that made me hate myself. But through punk, I found my tribe"
"I would always be a gook to him. That I couldn't take off. G was my scarlet letter"
Phuc Tran's Sigh, Gone: A Misfit's Memoir of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight to Fit in is compelling. There is no doubt Tran has an important story to tell. From the outset, Tran contends he will use great books and punk rock as a lens to tell his story. That's where things didn't go quite as well for me.
Putting chapters of his family story under the titles of great books like Crime and Punishment, A Christmas Carol, Madame Bovary, The Scarlet Letter etc. ended up feeling forced. Having a violent father whose punishment he feared isn't really enough to tie a chapter to Dostoevsky. I didn't see the wrestling with morality, an exploration of a tormented mind, what it means to suffer or any sort of rejection of nihilism or of society (the kinds of things I expect when I think Dostoevsky). There are only a couple paragraphs in which Crime and Punishment is even directly addressed.
That might have been okay if such discussion had been near the beginning of the chapter and there had been real follow through. Likewise, giving up the 'nerditude' of Dungeons and Dragons to be a skate punk doesn't make him Eliza Doolittle (Pygmalion). That's the way I felt about other chapters as well. I didn't get the impression that I was revisiting these great works in a different way (which is sort of what I was hoping for). Exceptions might have been chapters at the very end of the book (The Importance of Being Earnest and The Autobiography of Malcolm X).
As somebody who grew up in a rural area and was into punk, I was excited to hear how that worked for Tran. There are some references in the introduction about punk, but it mostly was described in terms of how he dressed and who he hung out with. If he was going to stand out, he reasoned, he would rather stand out as a punk rather than a Vietnamese kid. That's fair enough, but there was nothing else about punk until he "emerged a skateboarder" about halfway through the book. Then there wasn't really much about the ethos of punk until the final pages. Instead, it was more about looking the part and fitting in with a group of friends.
I did really like a passage at the very end of the book: "Teenagers and truck drivers: We're all on our way to somewhere else. We're all sitting in these booths, knowing that we're not at our final destination." Tran finds a way to see commonality in tribes that don't necessarily think they have anything in common.
This is an emotional book that I'm sure will resonate with many readers and remind them how difficult it is to grow up with racism. No issues there. As I think about it, it's entirely possible I'm having problems with Sigh, Gone because I relate too closely to being a book geek and a Dungeons & Dragons nerd who grew up loving some of the punk bands Tran mentions. I completely understand he didn't want to be known as that Vietnamese kid, but he also seemed uncomfortable being a D&D nerd. I think a chapter on the Lord of the Rings, for instance, would have allowed for some great exploration. I do think it's really cool that Tran is now a teacher and tattoo artist! Once I put the title of the book (along with my expectations) out of my head, it was a better read. 3.5 stars
Thanks to Flatiron Publishing who provided me with an ARC of Sigh, Gone at no cost.
Usually writing reviews and even rating memoirs is kind of a crapshoot for me, because I pretty uniformly enjoy them and give them 4 stars and rarely have any idea how to critique someone's lived experience.
This is very good! That's that.
Bottom line: I love a good memoir. What can I say.
this is shaping up to be the reading month of a lifetime.
review to come / 4 stars
------------ tbr review
had me at "memoir told through books"
(thanks to the publisher for the arc)
taking lily's idea and reading only books by asian authors this month!
As research for a novel I'm writing, I'm not only reading detective fiction but reading memoirs by women or Black, Hispanic and Asian writers for views at how they see, or don't see, themselves reflected in popular culture. Last on my list is Sigh, Gone: A Misfit's Memoir of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight to Fit In by Phuc Tran. Published in April 2020, I was surprised not only to discover that I'm exactly the same age as Tran and went through public school at the same time he did, but how much I related to his experiences growing up a second generation American, like several of my childhood friends, who were Indian or Vietnamese.
Punk rock, skateboarding and brushes with rednecks and the law do factor into Tran's account of his teenage years, but so does fleeing Saigon with his father and mother in 1975 before his first memory, growing up in Carlisle, Pennsylvania against his will and most impressively, books. Alfred Camus is the first author Tran discovers, his freshman year of high school, after a skateboarding buddy named Philip who perplexed him by valuing education suggests that if he likes The Cure he should read The Stranger. Laced through is Tran's desire to fit in, which goes beyond being a weird teenage boy and is embedded in his name, his ethnicity and his very different life at home.
There was tremendous amount about Tran's memories that I related to as he took me through his adolescence. Phuc covets wristbands like the cool kid in 2nd grade. Denied by his mother due to their cost, he makes his own out of a pair of socks, which not only gets him mocked at school but beaten so badly by his father that he can't sit. His teacher Mrs Boose pays a visit to his parents, which makes Phuc fear she'll be beaten too. His childhood was filled with such episodes, feeling like he didn't fit in out there or in here, always related through pop culture and trends that I recall from growing up in the 1980s.
Do kids know whether they're rich or poor? Do rich kids know that they grow up without any wants or needs? That they get everything they desire? What about poor kids?
I can tell you that I knew we were poor early on. I knew that I was wearing discarded clothing that someone had donated us. I knew what no meant when I asked for a two-dollar Han Solo action figure at the store--it meant we didn't have enough money for it. Like the violence I lived in, our poverty had no contest. Adults like to say that kids are resilient, and that's true, but it's because they don't know anything different. Kids are kids, and their ignorance allows them to accept things as they are. That's their difference.
Maybe if I read more non-fiction I wouldn't have been as surprised to see my thoughts or concerns reflected so accurately by an author. Lately, I've been wondering what it might be like to wander through the huge house I spent 1976-1979 in, the place of my very first memories, of when my mother and father were still together. Finding out I had to go to a place called school with people I didn't know, working on things I didn't want to, where people judged you because you didn't know how to tie your shoes yet, used words you weren't familiar with. Like, what the hell was that all about? And how did I survive?
I didn't pray for my father to be different or kinder or more loving, because I couldn't imagine him that way. He never spoke to us with affection or tenderness. His anger and his violence shaped how I saw him, and I wasn't sure he would even be my father without the anger and violence. But I didn't want him as he was--"as is" was the terms of sale for parents and children.
The wish for different parents fuels the archetypal fairy tales about evil stepmothers and children left in the woods. These fairy tales pivot around the wish that our parents, irascible and imperfect, aren't even our real parents, that a fairy godmother will reveal to us our true royal bloodline or magical lineage. Whether you're Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker or Cinderella, the fantasy is that the adults who are raising you aren't even your real parents, that your real parents are kinder and magical. The fantasy is that you have a destiny that is greater and more splendid than your current fate's contours.
On that car ride home, I dismissed that unbridled fantasy with stiff, sobering logic: if this was the worst that could transpire , I would be okay because I had known worse. My father hadn't beaten me or Lou in months--that was already an improvement, and I could live through the punishment of getting kicked out of the car. My past was worse than my present, and if my present indicated my future, I could live with that.
Tran pens a Pulitzer-worthy account of his first sexual experience, at age 14 with Charlotte, one of his school's two "vampire chicks," later to be known as goth girls when "goth" reached the popular vernacular. We should all have been so lucky with our first time. I loved Tran's account of trying to convince his mother that he wanted to go back-to-school shopping for high school at Goodwill, rather than the department stores where the family finally had money to spend on nice, new things. Highly recommend for those amazed that they survived childhood as a perpetual outsider.
Phuc Tran writes an astonishing and amazingly relatable coming-of-age memoir about his life and his family’s survival, by fleeing Vietnam in 1975 during the fall of Saigon, and settled in Carlisle, PA. Arriving to the US with only one shoe on his feet, he tells this poignant story that was at times heartbreaking, on many occasions laughable, but always with brevity and wit.
The stories were woven together through themes stemming from beloved works of classic literature in the chapters such as, Crime and Punishment, The Scarlet Letter or The Iliad to name a few.His love for literature becomes his solace and refuge that ultimately shaped who he eventually becomes. This was evident in the way Tran articulates language as an art form that I find so beautiful in his writing.
I also appreciated In this memoir, how he bravely recounts his relationship with his father as he takes on severe beatings, suffer through financial hardships and racial taunts. His life was not an easy path which I thought really shaped his character and ethos - truly admirable.
Phuc Tran narrates an America that both welcomed and embraced him, and yet also disparaged him and his family in a very confusing time as he struggles to fit in. This heartwarming story is about race and prejudice, resilience and strength, assimilation and displacement, acceptance and belonging, and how through hard work and a well thought out plan can overcome adversities in this coming-of-age memoir.
I highly recommend this book for an amazing story - you cannot miss this one!
This is a memoir of a Vietnamese family who fled the collapse of South Vietnam in 1975. They settled in Carlisle, PA. The author tells about growing up as the only Asian in the small town.
The book is well written and ranges from sad, angry to funny. I found it interesting that in order to fit in the author set about reading and obtained a lifetime passion for reading. I enjoyed reading about the trials and tribulations of being the only Asian in a community. I was saddened to read about the racism. Besides it was an easy to read book. Many parts of the book resulted in me thinking about refugees and racism. The author is an excellent writer. I look forward to more books by this author.
I received this as an ARC (advance readers copy) from the publisher for an honest review. I read it in a 6x9 soft cover book 306 pages. Published in 2020 by Flatiron Books
Those living in 1975 Saigon faced a bleak future, The city had been decimated by warfare, poverty, government corruption and a communist takeover. For Phuc Tran and his family, the choice was either remain under perpetual servitude to the communists or leave Saigon. The Tran family escapes Saigon and settle in Carlisle, PA, U.S.A. and Phuc's story begins. His memoir is an extremely honest coming of age saga of racial isolation in a town laced with ignorance and bigotry. As the only Vietnamese child in school, Phuc struggled to fit in while not sure of his place in the world. There is pain, humor, sadness, abuse, punk lifestyle and love of literature to keep Phuc going. Phuc Tran isn't afraid to share childhood memories that are sometimes joyous and sometimes horrific including the ones of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father. Tran's book is one that tells an all too familiar tale of racism but not in a preachy sense but in one that should challenge us to reflect in our efforts to be accepted. Phuc Tran's book is a wonderful coming of age tale that I highly recommend in these current turbulent times. For those that think that racism doesn't exist, Phuc Tran might have a different view. I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley. #NetGalley #SighGone
Phuc Trac was born in Vietnam and immigrated with his family to America during the Fall of Saigon. His family eventually found their way to a small town in Pennsylvania where his mother and father struggled to make ends meet. Phuc found it difficult to assimilate in a town that was predominately white and had people who often expressed their ignorant and racist viewpoints. His home life was no picnic either as he grew up in an abusive home.
I enjoyed Phuc's writing style as one minute I might be laughing (The Happy Hooker and Chariots of Fire stories were highlights) and the next thing I know he has snuck something in that is very thought provoking. I finished this book weeks ago and one of the things that has stuck in my mind is his thoughts on the portrayal of Asian kids in movies in the 1980s. One of the best parts of reading a memoir is getting to learn the viewpoints of someone who might have a completely different background than you. I just keep reflecting on how an ordinary baseball cap worn by a character had a different meaning for Phuc.
Highly recommend reading this one especially if you enjoy memoirs. This is one of my favorite memoirs I have read in recent years because the author was so open and honest and brought a lot of substance to his writing. Whenever you have opportunity to laugh and get teary-eyed all in one reading, that's a good thing.
Thank you to Flatiron Books for sending me an advance reader's copy in exchange for an honest review!
I bought SIGH, GONE on impulse because I'd heard so many great things about it from friends. SIGH, GONE is the memoir of Phuc Tran, who moved to the U.S. from Vietnam after the fall of Saigon in the Vietnam War. It's a pretty intense memoir filled with his experiences with culture shock, racism, punk culture, 1980s nostalgia, and, of course, his passion: literature.
One thing he does that I really liked was tie so many of his key experiences to some of his favorite works of literature. I probably would have appreciated this even more if I actually liked the books he was referencing but sadly his taste is pretty canon and mine is, well, not. My taste in lit-fic runs more to things like JANE EYRE and I CAPTURE THE CASTLE and DOCTOR ZHIVAGO.
Which leads me to what didn't really make this memoir work for me. Parts of it were so tedious. I loved the parts of his childhood, like his rise to skater boy fame among his peers or his angst over selling his comic books for punk gear, but oh my god, it was the longest three hundred pages ever. There was just so much extra padding.
I think if you grew up in this time period (he's about ten years older than me), like literary fiction, and have a really deep nostalgia for punk culture, this book will feel like coming home. I appreciated a lot about this book but I also ended up skimming a lot of what I didn't. Your mileage may vary.
Good grief, this book is destined for the stars. I had to keep reminding myself "this is a real life dude!" because it reads like fiction - and like, the amazing fiction that sucks you in until you are huddled in your bed until the wee hours so you can finish with a booklight so you don't wake anyone. Which is what I did last night. Phuc Tran is a wonderful, gifted writer - I loved how he plays with language to tell his story, which is in itself both enthralling and totally relatable. His writing is ingenious but with zero pretentiousness - he's smart without being a dick about it, and that is oh so refreshing. :-) He appeals to so many audiences with this memoir which touches upon immigration, class, society, racism, education, Gen X experience, Asian-American experience, punk culture....! My brain is reeling in that really great way that happens when you pick up a great book. I'm not going to analyze it further, because people far smarter than I are going to go nuts over this work and do a better job of it. The bottom line is this the best memoir I've read this year and I highly recommend it.
A well-written memoir about growing up in an immigrant family. The title says the rest. A familiar topic, yet Tran made it fresh - especially with his use of literature as a touchstone. I loved the way he divided the chapters by the names of classic titles- i.e. "The Plague," "Pygmalion" etc.
I can not express sufficiently how much I love this book. SIGH, GONE is utterly beautiful, poetic, haunting, insightful, funny, and brilliant. It is one of the most honest, compelling, and unique memoirs I have ever read. I celebrated the author's talent, wept and laughed on each page. I was so sad when the book ended. I desperately wanted it to continue.
I was very much honored that Phuc Tran reached out to me and asked me to do a virtual launch event with him via Green Apple Books on May 16. My novel, THE MOUNTAINS SING, has just been launched as well and my book tour, like Phuc's, was canceled. We had the most moving, fun and heartfelt conversation about the two worlds of the Vietnamese experiences: Phuc growing up in the US, facing racism, fighting to fit in, trying to cope with the trauma of his parents and me growing up in Vietnam, facing poverty, fighting to become a writer, trying to cope with the trauma and the devastation of war around me. Phuc's brother was even there to surprise me. It was an event I would never forget. If Phuc came across as very honest in his memoir, he confirmed it during our conversation. He said he would answer any question I had for him, and he added that whatever he feared most, he wrote it down in his memoir.
In writing SIGH, GONE, Phuc gives his readers' his heart and his soul. This memoir is about his personal journey but it brings to light the devastating impact of war, racism, war trauma, and much more. Its important messages can broader our understanding, foster empathy, love, and connect us better as human beings.
The audiobook is brilliant, too. It is narrated by Phuc himself and he did such an incredible job. I really enjoyed listening to the Vietnamese language through his narration.
SIGH, GONE is a treasure and I would recommend it for anyone who is looking for a good and meaningful read.
Excellent coming-of-age memoir by a Vietnamese American growing up in Pennsylvania.
Phuc Tran and his family escaped Vietnam as refugees in the late 70s. They moved to the town of Carlisle, PA. Phuc was the only Asian kid in his class. Phuc has love for Star Wars and comic books and creates some bonds with other kids that way. From elementary school into high school he tries to find ways to fit in. He settles into a group of "punk rock" skater kids and also discovers a love for reading classical literature. Meanwhile, he has a not-so-stellar relationship with his father. Throughout it all, Phuc encounters micro-aggressions and outright racism.
I really enjoyed this book. Phuc is only a year or so older than me so I loved the nostalgia of the 80's and 90's references. Phuc shares moments of misunderstanding and humor along with moments of brightness. His voice is clear and sharp. You can hear his passion for music, art, and literature. He also expresses his initial confusion and upset when he realized the existence of systemic racism in America. Very relevant in these current times.
Fun Fact: one of my best friends in college grew up in Carlisle, PA and Phuc was a couple of years ahead of her in school. I visited Carlisle for a few days in the summer after my freshman year so it was helpful in trying to picture the scenarios he was describing.
3.5 stars. There were two elements that I really enjoyed about this memoir. Firstly, I appreciated the vivid description of the difficulties between immigrant parents arriving in a new country with different customs and language, and their children who grow up as natives. This role reversal with kids having to help their parents adapt and survive is so well portrayed in Sigh, Gone. Especially heart-breaking was the scene where a very young Phuc’s dad does not know how to pronounce Colonel, and Phuc has to explain it to him – to find out at such a young age that your parents are fallible is a big loss.
Secondly, the description of the different forms of racism in the book made a big impact. We all know that calling someone a derogatory name is racist, but what about complimenting them on their excellent English or even better, saying that the top students are always Asian? The fact that Phuc realized that he was also making racists jokes about himself to fit in, as well as his negative feelings about his parents being too Vietnamese, sadly shows that we can even be racists towards ourselves and our own families.
Although I liked that he tried to link different experiences in his life to classic books, it did not always work and sometimes the connection felt rather flimsy.
The biggest reason Sigh, Gone does not get a higher rating is because it felt that he never looked at his memories with the insight and understanding of an adult, but like he was still a teenager sharing events happening now, without any reflection or hindsight.
A quick, thought-provoking, funny coming of age memoir.
Phuc Tran is one of the many thousands evacuated from Saigon in April 1975, ending up in Carlisle, PA, which he describes as "Poorly Read. Very White. Collar Blue." Fitting in at school is a challenge for all but the most popular; a strange name, his race, his English, being poor, made him a natural target. Yet, Phuc maintains a sense of humor about his experiences and his strides to integrate. He is obviously smart, but soon tires of the archetypical stereotype, and joins the misfits, as a skateboarder, punk rocker where shabby clothes and black t-shirts featuring bands were accepted. Much to the delight of his English teacher and classmates (begrudgingly), Tran becomes a voracious reader, and names his chapters after famous 'must read' books, using the plots to describe various aspect of his school years. A gifted writer; recommended.
When I first picked up Phuc Tran's novel, I thought I was going to read another harrowing story about a young immigrant kid trying to make it in the US. However, I was met with something a little bit different than the immigrant stories we've been seeing. Instead, it's the story of a young Vietnamese kid who moves to the States with his family in the mid-70s and his struggle not only to fit in, but also find himself.
This memoir is different than the ones I've read in the past. Instead of diving right into the stories of his life, Phuc Tran does what he loves best; shares some classic novels that he can connect back to his experiences growing up in a pretty small American town. Books by Oscar Wilde, Homer, Malcolm X, and even Flaubert and Kafka are in the mix as he not only explores the ways these books connect with his life, but also help him find out what he wants. Can you imagine being a 14-year-old kid and reading everything Oscar Wilde's ever written? Not me...
Phuc Tran writes with the eloquence of a literary fiction novel. This book breathes like you're reading Donna Tartt, but all the stories are real. There were some stories I couldn't even believe because of his writing style and how it's presented. To be honest, there were words I needed to look up because I didn't know. The way that the stories are written make it seem like a coherent piece of fiction with its high points and low points. I will admit, I got a little exhausted by it towards the end, but by that time I was already rating this book in my head.
When Phuc Tran starts making friends with the punk crew, I was hooked. He dons second-hand clothes, a studded leather jacket, and amasses an impressive record collection of all the great punk rock bands at the time. Through this subculture, he was able to carve a place in the world for himself and as his love for literature continued to grow he realizes that punk rock wasn't just some cool outfits or angry music, but his "in." It was a stepping stone to his real personality, and honestly, that's probably the best way to describe it.
While I was obsessed with music growing up, my sister and I were huge punk rock and hardcore lovers. Growing up on Long Island during the scene days meant we would spend our weekends at punk shows or at the mall meeting up with friends we've made at other shows. Being part of a subculture like this definitely defines an identity. Dressing like "punks" also gives people around you an idea of the person you are (something Phuc Tran goes into) and while it works for a while, it's not the only defining piece of yourself. As Phuc Tran gets more into books, he struggles with this too. But the truth is that it's all evolution. You're finding yourself which requires an open mind and a lot of trial and error. I feel like I'm still trying to find myself despite my teen years being over.
Of course, he does dive into some of the racial issues he dealt with growing up as the only Asian family in his small town. He talks about having a name like Phuc (pronounced fuhP) and his struggle to fit in with it and his parents ignorance to how certain words are pronounced or their ignorance for books and music and art. He talks about the ignorant folks who weren't afraid to jab him with micro-agressions about his culture and race. And the entire time he's writing about these experiences and what was going through his head, I couldn't help but notice that it was exactly the way I felt. Seriously, this book was a reflection of my teen years.
And because it was a reflection, I was a little emotional. While this book isn't particularly heavy with its themes, I felt the heaviness in my heart. Relating not only to his struggle to fit in, I also related with his home life. It was doubly tough for me because I have a mother who grew up in the States and a father right off the boat. Their beliefs in raising children were quite different making my teen years very confusing.
But enough about me. I would highly recommend this book if you were the "loser" or outcast growing up. You don't even need to be an immigrant's kid to understand his struggle because in many ways, it's the struggles we all felt growing up.
I received a copy of this book from Flatiron Books for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.
Phuc Tran grew up in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, after immigrating during the fall of Saigon in 1975. He spent his childhood being the only Vietnamese kid in school and struggled with the confusion and unease of being defined by everything that made him different. Going from D&D nerd to punk while developing an undying love for classic literature, Tran forged a path for himself while trying to understand his complicated familial relationships, overcome racism, and truly accept himself.
Sigh, Gone is a fantastic coming-of-age memoir. Tran shares the confusing, embarrassing, and complicated events of his young life from his family’s dramatic escape from Saigon, the awkward assimilation into small town America, physical abuse at the hands of his father, the haven he found in libraries, and his kinship with the skateboarding punk rock culture of the 1980s.
Honest, funny, clever, and inspiring; Phuc Tran has given readers a bold story about embracing who you are when all you want to do is fit in. I highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy autobiography/memoir with emphasis on coming-of-age.
Phuc Tran’s Sigh, Gone is the memoir you didn’t know you need to read.
Tran’s story—leaving Sai Gon with one shoe as a toddler, crafting his persona to fit in at a small, white, rural high school, and ultimately emerging as his own version of an All-American young man—is one that is unique but relatable.
The book is organized around great literature and will appeal to most bibliophiles on that basis alone. His recollection of growing up in the specific time period is soooo spot on, though I’m a bit younger. Swatches, plaid and Doc Martens may be specific to the late 80’s and early 90’s, but the struggle most of us endure to figure out our passion is timeless.
Tran’s challenges as an immigrant and person of color are different than mine, but it almost made the book more relatable to me because I understood the beat even with different music. I think my own high school era deep dive into literature and music was similarly an attempt to find commonality that perhaps I couldn’t achieve with my classmates.
Tran’s analysis of literature as a parallel explanation of his experience really struck a chord with me. Art is often how we make sense of the world around us and why the first few notes of a twenty-year-old song can conjure up intense feelings of a different time and place. Or, for that matter, why in times of crisis we return to favorite books that captured our imagination in our youth. In one section that I really enjoyed, Tran discusses The Plague by Albert Camus and notes:
“Camus writes that in the midst of the plague, as the citizens of Oran are dying in droves, Dr. Rieux affirms himself in his work. What do you have control over? And what is beyond your control? As Camus’s protagonist, Dr. Rieux offers an answer: when the world is coming apart, you do your job. That my father and mother could do.”
This is in a section detailing the racist crap his father endured and how it didn’t shake his father’s optimism. But it’s also about how shitty Americans are to refugees. This didn’t happen at the playground with kids mimicking racist crap their parents taught them. These are adults that will be copied by their kids. This is the source. What an awful comment on this country and absolutely deserved.
I happened to read this book at a time where music and literature are sustaining me and the world is weighed down fighting a pandemic. I don’t think I would have guessed that 30 years down the line, the same ignorant racism still pervades our society, parroted by the most powerful man in the land. Tran’s discussion of the Trojan War, The Iliad and the difference between being the best and being the most powerful is completely of this exact moment. I’m thankful for the chance to think about Tran’s words as we face this chapter in history. Also, in case you need an additional inducement, this book is laugh-out-loud funny.
I received an advance copy of this book from Goodreads.
Selfishly I picked up this memoir to read and get a better understanding of what my own Vietnamese-American boyfriend’s childhood and immigrant experience may have been like. My boyfriend came to America at around the same age and nearly the same time as the author, but, unlike Tran, isn’t as willing to share his stories or experiences with me. I got all I wanted and more—a story that asks big universal questions about sacrifice and devotion, identity, family and coming into ones own.
While reading his story, the horrific events in Atlanta against Asian-Americans took place in an already escalated climate of hate against minorities. This book made me wish.. If only more people sought out books to learn about and understand others. If only people read complex origin stories such as this, they might also start to think about their own complex stories and discover that no one is as different as they seem. If only there were more people as selfish as many readers like me.
This book started 'good' and finished 'great'. I read the final couple hundred pages in one day. Phuc's early years start the book as his family transitions from Viet Nam to Carlisle PA in 1975 at age 5. But it is his middle school years and high school where the book gripped me as I needed to know how he would survive the late 1980's.
Phuc sought acceptance, as all kids do. This honest account of his thoughts sound like they are almost from a diary. He experienced a different discrimination than the black students at his school. For example, when he applied to Penn late in high school, the interviewer remarked that although his grades were very good (14th in a class of 330), the Penn Asian expectations required him to excel even higher to compete with the always-smart fellow Asians. The 'Asians are smart' stereotype had a hidden discrimination. Phuc's strong comments about race are not 'preached' in this book, but rather you simply hear them as a part of his life.
Phuc went from nerd, to punk, to punk-nerd, to renaissance man in his middle school and high school years. His description of the transition to high school is captured with the metaphor to Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis".
What's worse than turning into a giant bug? Turning into a giant bug and having your family act like a bunch of assholes. And isn't that adolescence? A biological change over which we have no control? And then our family, like a bunch of assholes, treats us like an insect in the midst of a metamorphosis that we ourselves hardly understand. Suddenly, with a different focus, from the perspective of a bug, we see who they are.
I greatly appreciated hearing how Phuc saw education as his ticket out. He not just read all the great books, but discussed them with teachers and with the rare few students that thought this was cool. His girlfriend Molly was a great help here.
I liked Phuc's ability to remember lots of small details. As he skips through the many life scenes, I felt a very real-time presence. It was as though I was walking besides the characters in this book.
I give this a 4.5, which I round up per my inability to stop reading once I got hooked.
This book took me much longer to read than it should. I kept putting it aside. Was it the book or me? I tend to think it was the book. While it was written well, there didn’t seem to be a strong thread pulling the story forward that made me want to keep going. Once a chapter finished, it could have been the end of the story, for each chapter.
The frame of the chapters was a great choice, starts out with a classic literature book, then relates how that fit into his life at that time. For example: The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka is compared to his teenage transformation, he cannot control and his body does something different and his family treats him differently, much like Gregor Samsa when he turned into a bug with his family reaction.
I particularly enjoyed one of the later chapters “The Autobiography of Malcom X” and Tran’s look at racism. For me that was his most powerful chapter. I wanted to call it essay, since that is what this felt like, a group of essays, that also happen to follow Tran as he ages, starting young when the family left Vietnam to when he graduates high school. Oddly enough, I wanted more post-high school, how was college for him, how did he change?
The book is very readable and relatable. Overall rating 3.5 stars, and rounded up.
Thanks to Flatiron Books/Macmillan and NetGalley for an uncorrected electronic advance review copy of this book.
I picked this up because of my recent enthusiasm for memoir. Tran is a good writer, and he evokes the period of his youth -- the 70s and 80s -- well. This book is both a typical coming of age story, moving through early childhood into adolescent rebellion, but also, more importantly, the journey of a Vietnamese refugee trying to navigate America and find his place in it. Tran's story is one of heartbreak and humor, self-doubt and triumph, self-hate and acceptance.
As someone who is only a few years older than Tran, and also a product of the eastern USA, I recognize the world he evokes. I grew up in a very white town, where the largest minority was Asians. I had a handful of Asian friends in school, one who I was quite close to. But this book does an excellent job of making me wonder what they had to go through that I didn't see. The trials that they faced that I didn't experience being white.
This book confronts racism head on with honestly and definitely some bitterness. However, Tran's writing is so well crafted and full of compassion and understanding, that I would not say it rises to anger.
The main weakness I found here is the book's structure. Each chapter is named after a classic book which Tran loves (literature being a big part of his story). The concept is clever, but I do think some of his attempts to interpret the events of his life through the books feels a bit forced. Not always but definitely more than I would like.
Sigh, Gone by Phuc Tran is so much more than a memoir. It was life in all of its happiest moments, awful moments and frankly moments that make you want to reach out and bitch slap someone.
I laughed, I ugly cried, and I said words that aren't very nice, and that is what a good book does. It makes you feel, even when the emotion you are having isn't a good one.
This is definitely a book that everyone should read... And some more than others. I am from the south, where racism is overt at times, as well as covert. But there is always an underlying current of racism, everywhere. Phuc made me see racism in places I had not thought to look, or maybe bury my head so I DON'T look. Because if you don't look, then it can't be real, right? If you don't see it, it's not real... And when you don't see or choose NOT to see then it is just as bad as seeing and not doing anything. As a white woman, I will never know the racism that some experience, but with this book Phuc helped me to know it.
This book touched my heart, and I am better for having read it. Thank you to Mr. Tran for writing it!
I received a digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. Thank you to Netgalley and Flatiron Books!
SIGH, GONE is the ideal memoir: raw, honest, authentic, hard-hitting, hilarious and inspiring. Debut author, teacher and tattooist Phuc Tran describes his travails as a Vietnamese immigrant growing up in small-town Pennsylvania with the perfect balance of insight and self-deprecation. As a child myself of the 70s and 80s, Tran captured for me all the essential truths of that strange era: the power of pop culture at its zenith, the pain of family expectations, the salvation by friends, the exceptional role of the teacher in the life of the North American adolescent, and the awakening of a young mind through books. Reading Tran’s engaging words, I kept thinking how he and I could not have grown up more differently, yet we also grew up very much the same. And that, my friends, is the true power of literature.
In 1975 during the fall of Saigon, Phuc Tran and his parents fled from Vietnam to come to the US. This memoir recounts Phuc’s experiences growing up in small-town Pennsylvania. He discusses the racism he faced from other kids and adults, the abuse he experienced from his father, and how he eventually found himself through reading “great books” and discovering punk rock.
Sometimes the stories he told got a little bit repetitive, or it was a stretch to try and connect the themes to the particular great book he was talking about in a particular section. But overall I think this is a great memoir. Phuc has an interesting perspective and is able to cover a lot of important topics through his story.
This was so clever! Tran told each chapter through learnings of some of his favourite classic novels, and so much of his life story is relatable. So interesting to read about the many areas of his life that seemed so at odds with one another. I really appreciated how honest he was about how tumultuous and abusive his relationship with his father was. This book also borders between sad and funny; overall, enjoyed reading Tran’s reflective memoir!
For me, a 5 star book takes me on an immersive journey and has me eagerly flipping through the pages, despite not wanting to ever reach the end. A 5 star book triggers all of my emotions, and along the way, teaches me something as well. So what can I say about a book that did all of the above, and then gave me something I’ve never experienced in my life - true emotional connection and resonance with the hero’s journey, because for the first time, I was reading about a path that I had walked as well.⠀ ⠀ Like Phuc Tran, I’m also a Vietnamese American refugee who landed in a majority white small town in 1975. I too grew up feeling like an outsider at school for my Asian-ness and an outsider at home for being too Americanized. As my personal journey about my Asian American identity has evolved, I have loyally bought and read most books by Vietnamese American authors. As I read their stories, I hungrily held onto any thread of commonality that I could grab hold of, basking in any sliver of relatability in family dynamics, food, or discrimination.⠀ ⠀ In “Sigh, Gone”, I found a home. For the first time in my life, I was reading a story that I recognized in its entirety. It shook me how comforting it was to realize that my experience was not as solitary and isolated as it felt while I was going through it. To be clear, there are a lot of differences between my life and Phuc’s! His story involves punk rock, skateboarding and an elevated appreciation for literature, as evidenced by the clever framework of the memoir that revolves around influential books from his adolescence like “The Iliad” and “Pygmalion”. Me? I liked New Kids on the Block, the Buffalo Bills and playing field hockey.⠀ ⠀ But Phuc’s underlying theme of the struggle of not fitting in or feeling understood within your community and your home are all eminently understandable to me. Best evidence of my endorsement of this book? I immediately bought copies of it for my parents, my sister and best Viet friend so that they could share the experience with me - we're not alone.⠀
This super irreverent nonconformist dude can write! There are so many reasons and facets of this that make it difficult to stop and put down. But self-admitted paradox PHOOOOK (rising tone) is ...I mean, dude knows Greek and Latin and is a tatt artist. He helped me to understand Cz Kafka’s Metamorphosis!
And especially after I made the delicate discovery that he and USC prof and Pulitzer Viet Nguyen were both at the same relocation camp after they left Vietnam simply blows me away.
Carlisle, PA��- historical home of Puritans and small town rural USA— in comes this family that doesn’t have the support of many other Vietnamese, and there begins the search of this young man for who he truly is.
So authentically written, so brilliantly posited, his issues and his tensions and his precarious relationship with his Dad, his disappointing one with his Mom. Then there is the extremely unnavigable language problem and prejudices surrounding that— and immigrants in general.
Tran freed a lot of his demons in what must have been a very cathartic process in the 6 or so years it took him to complete writing his memoir.
Growing up bicultural and figuring out what portions of one’s culture to eschew, celebrate, reject, and preserve is a very complex, very individual process. Just glad he had his brother about.
Also glad he got to experience Bard, and now what must be an awesome quality of life in Portland ME!