Reviews provided by Syndetics
Library Journal Review
Born in Vietnam, Le was raised in Australia, where he trained as a lawyer, and came to the United States to attend the Iowa Writers' Workshop. So it might panic a few readers that the protagonist of the first story in this stellar debut collection is the Vietnam-born Nam, a former lawyer from Australia trying to meet a deadline at the Iowa Writers' Workshop when his estranged father blows into town. Will this be a bunch of autobiographical stories exemplifying "ethnic fiction" (which the story actually manages, rather slyly, to dismiss)? Absolutely not--unless Le is also a 14-year-old assassin in Colombia, asked to kill a friend; a crotchety if successful painter coming to terms with a cancer diagnosis just as the daughter he's never met prepares for her Carnegie Hall debut; a high school boy in Australia who's achieved a modest sports victory and must face down a bully as his mother faces death; and an American woman visiting a friend in Tehran who risks her life battling the regime. Le writes rawly rigorous stories that capture entire worlds; each character is distinctive and fully fleshed out, each plot eventful as a full-length novel but artfully compressed. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/08.]--Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
From a Colombian slum to the streets of Tehran, seven characters in seven stories struggle with very particular Swords of Damocles in Pushcart Prize winner Le's accomplished debut. In "Halflead Bay," an Australian mother begins an inevitable submission to multiple sclerosis as her teenage son prepares for the biggest soccer game of his life. The narrator of "Meeting Elise," a successful but ailing artist in Manhattan, mourns his dead lover as he anticipates meeting his daughter for the first time since she was an infant. The opening "Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice" features a Vietnamese character named Nam who is struggling to complete his Iowa Writer's Workshop master's as his father comes for a tense visit, the first since an earlier estrangement shattered the family. The story's ironies--"You could totally exploit the Vietnamese thing," says a fellow student to Nam--are masterfully controlled by Le, and reverberate through the rest of this peripatetic collection. Taken together, the stories cover a vast geographic territory (Le was born in Vietnam and immigrated to Australia) and are filled with exquisitely painful and raw moments of revelation, captured in an economical style as deft as it is sure. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
In this short-story cycle, Le invents realistic characters in the midst of suffering, longing, and needing but also hope and compassion. These characters seem to jump from the page with problems for the reader to confront and experience. The author moves from fiction to nonfiction with the grace of a seasoned writer, and he engages a broad range of geographic locations, from a father's memories of Vietnam to violence in Cartagena. The opening story deals with a problem between a son and a father--the former hoping to remember, the latter trying to forget--and the impossibility of their reconciliation. Focusing on multiculturalism and diversity from its opening page, this book takes a step toward redefining the genre. Those engaged in teaching, writing, or studying short fiction will find it especially useful. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates through faculty; professionals; general readers. C. R. Bloss Georgia Southwestern State University
This collection of seven short stories and novellas features four works that were previously issued in literary publications and three new to this volume. Stories are set on six continents and at sea, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and have characters ranging in age from childhood through the senior years. Many explore the intricate loyalties and betrayals in family life: notably, Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice, in which a Vietnamese Australian émigré studying at the University of Iowa's writers' program experiences his father's final brutality, and Halflead Bay, in which a teenage boy struggles with the father and brother who rescue him from a vicious schoolmate. Less-memorable characters are portrayed through intense physical and sexual description. They are brought to life in powerful stories of love and death through a muscular yet delicate style: lyrical, often poetic, leaving the obvious unsaid and endings ambiguous. Readers of Philip Roth and André Brink, as well as those who enjoy complex and emotion-charged short fiction, will devour this book.--Loughran, Ellen Copyright 2008 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
A polished and intense debut story collection of astonishing range. Some of the stories border on novellas, and this allows the author, who was born in Vietnam in 1979, more latitude to develop the complexity of his characters as well as his twisted narrative strands. The opening story, "Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice," is a brilliantly conceived narrative about a writer called Nam who is trying to meet some deadlines at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. When his father, a Vietnamese immigrant who "was drawn to weakness, even as he tolerated none in me," interrupts both Nam's schedule and his personal life, Nam begins to fret, for he's worried about being able to produce a story on the tight deadline he faces. He's not interested in falling back on the "typical" survival story about Vietnamese boat people, and he remembers that at an earlier time his father confessed to having witnessed the My Lai massacre as a boy of 14. This revelation leads Nam to a stunning realization about the nature of father-son relationships, and his epiphany becomes the true subject of his story. "Halflead Bay," the longest story in the collection, finds Jamie, a recent rugby hero at his school, being seduced by the popular Alison--and then beset by Alison's erstwhile boyfriend, the egregiously Neanderthal Dory. (A complicating subplot involves Jamie's mother slowly dying from MS.) Among the other entries is "Hiroshima," which considers a girl whose life is to be radically altered by the incipient dropping of the atomic bomb, and "Tehran Calling," which examines the relationship between two friends, an American and an Iranian, and the gulf that divides them during the Muslim holy week of Ashura. The book is very good, even if sometimes the stories lack satisfying resolutions. Ironically, and slyly, with a nod to the opening story, the final piece, which gives the book its name, is an imaginative reconstruction of what it felt like to be a boat person, to launch into a 12-day journey with no foreseeable end. Consummately self-assured. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.