Family in Six Tones

Family in Six Tones

A Refugee Mother, An American Daughter

Book - 2020
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"In 1975, thirteen-year-old Lan Cao boarded an airplane in Saigon and got off in a world where she faced hosts she had not met before, a language she didn't speak, and food she didn't recognize, with the faint hope that she would be able to go home soon. Lan fought her way through confusion, and racism, to become a successful lawyer and novelist. Four decades later, she faced the biggest challenge in her life: raising her daughter Harlan--half Vietnamese by birth and 100 percent American teenager by inclination. In their lyrical joint memoir, told in alternating voices, mother and daughter cross ages and ethnicities to tackle the hardest questions about assimilation, aspiration, and family. Lan wrestles with her identities as not merely an immigrant but a refugee from an unpopular war. She has bigoted teachers who undermine her in the classroom and tormenting inner demons, but she does achieve--either despite or because of the work ethic and tight support of a traditional Vietnamese family struggling to get by in a small American town. Lan has ambitions, for herself, and for her daughter, but even as an adult feels tentative about her place in her adoptive country, and ventures through motherhood as if it is a foreign landscape. Reflecting and refracting her mother's narrative, Harlan fiercely describes the rites of passage of childhood and adolescence, filtered through the aftereffects of her family's history of war, tragedy, and migration. Harlan's struggle to make friends in high school challenges her mother to step back and let her daughter find her own way. Family in Six Tones speaks both to the unique struggles of refugees and to the universal tug-of-war between mothers and daughters. The journey of an immigrant--away from war and loss toward peace and a new life--and the journey of a mother raising a child to be secure and happy are both steep paths filled with detours and stumbling blocks. Through explosive fights and painful setbacks, mother and daughter search for a way to accept the past and face the future together"--
Publisher: New York : Viking, [2020]
ISBN: 9781984878168
Branch Call Number: B CAO
Characteristics: 304 pages ; 24 cm
Additional Contributors: Cao, Harlan Margaret Van - Author


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Sep 23, 2020

First off, I think Lan Cao’s grasp of the English language is amazing. Her word choice s perfect as she tells her story of growing up in Vietnam and moving to the US with an American “uncle and aunt” shortly before the fall of Saigon. Her explanation of the differences in Vietnamese parents and American parents in expectations and mindset makes it clear what a big jump in was in beliefs to parent in America. By contrast her daughter, Harlan, is born in America. I love how she explains her mother’s “shadow selves” that emerged after the traumas of Vietnamese life. Harlan is a teenager and I think her observations are extremely important as she is still figuring out who she is. I would love to see a follow-up to her views in 20 years, when she knows who she is. The two perspectives are interesting, and I feel that anyone willing to share their personal fears and views of their mother in a non-self-centered way has a future as an author.

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