Born and raised in Vietnam until she came to America at the age of thirteen, Lan Cao has distinguished herself in remarkably diverse ways. A politics major at MHC, she went on to earn a law degree from Yale. She secured a prestigious clerkship with a U.S. district judge, then worked at a large New York law firm before becoming an international law professor at Brooklyn Law School. As if these accomplishments weren't enough, Cao recently published a novel, Monkey Bridge,which the New York Times hailed for its "authoritative and subtly nuanced delineation of character and place."She has also coauthored Everything You Need to Know About Asian American History. Currently she is writing a love story set in China and New York City's Chinatown.
When asked how she manages novel writing with being a full-time law professor, Lan replies, "Actually, it's the easiest thing in the world. As an academic, I have a great deal of control over my time. When I'm writing, I tend to write in the morning, from 4 till 8, before I begin teaching."
Clearly Lan doesn't regard juggling these diverse activities as a particularly unusual feat. Perhaps this has something to do with her notion of work--a notion she picked up from a politics course she took at Mount Holyoke. "We read Studs Terkel's Working, and we were asked to consider whether work could be more than a paycheck; that it could, in fact, be a means of expressing oneself."
When asked how she would counsel undergraduates about career preparation, Lan's advice is in keeping with her attitude about work as a form of expression: "Follow the things that you take real pleasure in learning." Speaking of her undergraduate career at MHC, Lan says, "I never had any particular plan, but I chose courses that I really had a passion for. I gravitated toward courses with an emphasis on political theory, courses that gave me a critical framework for understanding and analyzing information. A lot of people think they have to plan out what will look good on their resume. They're afraid they'll seem unstable or unreliable if they don't have a set plan. I'm not saying you shouldn't make plans, and I certainly believe in the importance of discipline. But it's important to allow yourself to be open to new ideas, to explore things that really give you pleasure."
Writing novels wasn't something Lan ever planned to do. It grew naturally out of her need to express herself during a difficult time. "I began writing when my mother got sick in 1992." What began as jotted down impressions developed into a full-born novel, and by 1996 this lawyer/law professor was on book tours across the country.
For Lan Cao, there is no division between work and the rest of her life. "I feel very fortunate, because I'm paid to think about issues that I'm curious about."
by Lan Cao
Hailed by critics and writers as powerful, important fiction, Monkey Bridge charts the unmapped territory of the Vietnamese American experience in the aftermath of war. Like navigating a monkey bridge--a bridge, built of spindly bamboo, used by peasants for centuries--the narrative traverses perilously between worlds past and present, East and West, in telling two interlocking stories: one, the Vietnamese version of the classic immigrant experience in America, told by a young girl; and the second, a dark tale of betrayal, political intrigue, family secrets, and revenge--her mother's tale.
Just months before the Communists roll into Saigon in 1975, Mai Ngyuen, the young Vietnamese narrator of Monkey Bridge, is packed off to the U.S. Her sorrowing mother escapes in the final hours, leaving Mai's grandfather behind. Now it's Mai who plays the elder, navigating a rude, incomprehensible culture that makes possible a sudden twist in life. "Not only could we become anything we wanted to be in America, we could change what we had once been in Vietnam," she realizes. Though Mai watches her mother's ebullient friend shave years off her age and a one-time bar girl lay claim to a virtuous past as a Confucian teacher, she never wonders how much of their lives her mother has reinvented. Following in the footsteps of The Woman Warrior, this compelling novel draws on folk tales and traditions. Despite false notes and occasionally clunky dialogue, it delivers a neat knockout punch in the end.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Not only is this Lan's first novel, it is one of the finest dramatizations of the experiences of Vietnamese refugees in the U.S. Lan herself was airlifted out of Saigon in 1975, and she has transformed her prismatic memories into a stunning and powerful drama. The title refers to the tenuous bamboo bridges that sway above the rivers of the verdant Vietnamese countryside, a resonant symbol of the fragility of links between people and nations, the past and the future. As Lan's young heroine, Mai Nguyen, learns over the course of her war-torn childhood and abrupt relocation to Farmington, Connecticut, even the strongest connections to home and loved ones can break under the weight of events greater than ourselves. Mai and her widowed mother escape the terrible aftermath of the war, but while Mai takes readily to American life, her mother, haunted by her losses, recoils from the place she calls "the great brand-new." Much of Lan's tale evokes classic immigrant quandaries, but her vivid characters have the added burden of being perceived as the enemy in a shameful war, a twist Lan explores with exquisite sensitivity. Donna Seaman--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Kirkus Reviews
A wonderfully written but unengaging first novel about a young Vietnamese refugee who, in 1975, is airlifted from Saigon and only later learns of her family's dark past. Mai, whose family befriended Michael MacMahon, an American Colonel in Saigon, comes to the States as a 13-year-old. After staying with the MacMahons for six months, she moves to Washington, D.C, joined there by her widowed mother. The two make their home in ``Little Saigon,'' the years pass, Mai is soon fluent in English, and though mindful of her past--she nostalgically recalls traditional myths and customs--she adjusts to the new country. Her mother doesn't, though, and a bad fall, followed by a disabling stroke, seems to push her even further into the past. Mai hears her talk fretfully in her sleep of her father, Baba Quan, who was to accompany her to the US but never arrived at the agreed-upon rendezvous. Mai tries to contact him, but her mother is curiously discouraging. As Mai prepares to go to college, her mother seems happier, but the secret letters Mai finds her writing are less cheerful. While the letters at first retell old legends and beliefs and describe life in her native village, the last entries, her legacy to Mai, tell a darker and more complex story. Mai learns that her grandmother had been the landlord's concubine and he, not Baba Quan, was her grandfather; Baba Quan was actually a brutal, bitter man, and a Vietcong leader; moreover, her mother had been neglected by her intellectual husband and suffered many miscarriages. Convinced that she and the family have bad karma, Mai's mother acts--successfully--to free her daughter so that she may have a ``different heritage, an unburdened past.'' Heartfelt evocations of a different time and place aren't enough here to give vigor to a beautifully rendered but disappointingly lifeless story of the Vietnamese American experience (Author tour) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Hailed by critics and writers as powerful, important fiction, Monkey Bridge charts the unmapped territory of the Vietnamese American experience in the aftermath of war. Like navigating a monkey bridge--a bridge, built of spindly bamboo, used by peasants for centuries--the narrative traverses perilously between worlds past and present, East and West, in telling two interlocking stories: one, the Vietnamese version of the classic immigrant experience in America, told by a young girl; and the second, a dark tale of betrayal, political intrigue, family secrets, and revenge--her mother's tale. The haunting and beautiful terrain of Monkey Bridge is the "luminous motion," as it is called in Vietnamese myth and legend, between generations, encompassing Vietnamese lore, history, and dreams of the past as well as of the future. "With incredible lightness, balance and elegance," writes Isabel Allende, "[Lan Cao crosses] over an abyss of pain, loss, separation and exile, connecting on one level the opposite realities of Vietnam and North America, and on a deeper level the realities of the material world and the world of the spirits."
Nguyen Huu Vien's synthesis