Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"The Reeducation of Cherry Truong"

Aimee Phan grew up in Orange County, California, and now teaches in the MFA Writing Program and Writing and Literature Program at California College of the Arts. A 2010 National Endowment of the Arts Creative Writing Fellow, Aimee received her MFA from the Iowa Writer's Workshop, where she won a Maytag Fellowship. Her first book, We Should Never Meet, was named a Notable Book by the Kiryama Prize in fiction and a finalist for the 2005 Asian American Literary Awards. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, USA Today, and The Oregonian among others.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Reeducation of Cherry Truong, and reported the following:
I was so happy to discover what scene I landed on for this test, because it fortuitously foreshadows the central conflict of the novel: how my main protagonist Cherry grapples with the unfair expectations her Vietnamese immigrant family thrusts upon her, her brother, and cousins to succeed in America.

On page 69, we join Cherry, age 8, and her older brother Lum, 13, at their grandmother’s birthday party, where they are promptly confronted with a surprise palm reading by their grandmother’s closest psychic friend Ba Liem. While Cherry’s horoscope is rather uninspiring and sexist (she can be a nurse to her doctor husband!), Lum’s prediction sadly confirms the boy’s worst fears of inadequacy:
“This one is murky,” she pronounced. “I can’t get a clear reading on him. He is too impressionable, easily influenced by his peers. He must be watched very carefully...his eyes are good now, but he may require reading spectacles when he is forty-two.”

Both Grandmother Vo and Ba Nhanh leaned forward, as if to examine Lum with a new perspective.

“I suspected this one may be more troublesome,” Ba Nhanh said.

“He doesn’t do as well in school as his sister,” Grandmother Vo said to the twins. “His parents say he has poor reading skills, but perhaps it’s more than that.”

Lum withdrew his hand. “I’m doing fine in school.”

The old ladies stared at him with oval mouths.

“Impudent child!” Grandmother Vo said. “Ba Liem is honoring you with a reading and you disrespect her like this?”

“We shouldn’t be surprised,” Ba Liem said, nodding in satisfaction. “I will speak with his mother later. We will stop it, Ba Kim, before he gets too unruly.”
And of course, readers know at this point that he will be very unruly! But I love how this scene not only shows the significance of superstition in this family’s biases against each other, but it also reveals the children’s resistance of these preordained fates. Yet, this silly fortuneteller’s words will cast a large shadow over these children, no matter how much they try to deny it.
Learn more about the book and author at Aimee Phan's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue