Owner of a Lonely Heart
Beth's parents live separately in Saigon. But when at 8 months old the Vietnamese war gets too close, her father takes her and her sister, their uncles and their grandmother, and they hastily escape to the USA. Settling in a white neighborhood in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Beth finds out at age 10 that her mother has immigrated to Boston, but does not meet her until she travels to Boston at age19. Their infrequent meetings thereafter are brief and detached. Beth and her sister have many questions but they learn to have low expectations of connecting with their mother. They grow up with other mother figures, a caring step-mother and a loving grandmother, but they experience deeply the absence and seeming indifference of their birth mother in their lives.
The most interesting aspect of Owner of a Lonely Heart by Beth Nguyen for me is Beth's ruminations on her status as a refugee, her sense of not belonging, of being other and apart. She asks the question, "when does a refugee stop being a refugee?"
"I am in between: the one and a half generation of people who were born in one country but raised in another.... An uncertain-space, liminal state, partial refugee, where all the gaps are filled with shame."
This memoir was an easy, fascinating read, and I enjoyed learning about Beth's experiences in and observations of American culture, and of motherhood when she becomes a mother herself. This was a great story to read before Alice McDermott's Absolution, a gorgeous book about the experiences of American wives of military personnel who live in Saigon during the war, which I am currently reading.
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