Sometimes after I read a book I check out what other people think while it’s still fresh in my mind. I like to know if I’m on the same wavelength as other readers out there. (Let’s be honest, I can always find someone who agrees with me if I just look long enough.) I especially like to check out the 1 and 5 star reviews, so I can get an idea of the extreme reactions the book inspires. I didn’t pay too much attention to the summary on this before I read it, but for most people who felt strongly, it seemed to be because they were expecting “ghost stories”. They complained the stories weren’t scary, while others said they weren’t authentic to Vietnamese tradition.
Because I read the summary a while ago, I took the book at face value, as a collection of short stories around a particular theme. In this case, the common thread was Vietnam. The Vietnamese people portrayed in this book run the gamut from current inhabitants to transplants and refugees, all the way to fully immersed Americans. Since Vietnam and its traditions are a topic I know very little about, I was curious to read this book. Having said that, I cannot comment on the book’s authenticity. I can say that the ghosts unearthed in this story may not have been spooky howlers, but they left me with a deep sense of unease, which I can bet is probably worse. A quick scare does not stay with you; some of the disturbing ghosts in this book took me days, and plenty of happy stories after, to shake. The problem, I think, was expecting a ghost story, when in fact it was a story about ghosts.
What I am missing in looking at other people’s responses is the feeling I had while reading this book. The feeling of discovering something new and knowing that it will one day be great. There has been a lot said about this youthful author and her stunning debut, and people are right to be excited. Her imagination, scene setting, and fluid writing are all spot on; and her characters come alive with their quick insights and their vivid descriptions. At her very best in this book, the writing evoked the strange and beautiful stories I love by John Irving, so I have high expectations for whatever comes next. Can’t wait.