I tend to avoid debut novels by Asian Americans because many of them are some sort of cultural coming of age story. This was not the case with Aimee Phan’s The Reeducation of Cherry Truong. Because I’m Vietnamese American, my friend HapaMamaGrace recommended it to me. I’m glad she did.
On the surface, Cherry Truong is the perfect Vietnamese American daughter. Recently accepted into UC Irvine’s medical school, Cherry surprises her family with news that she wants to visit her exile brother in Vietnam for the summer, instead of going on a Hawaiian vacation with her cousins. Cherry is convinced she can bring her brother Lum back home to Little Saigon, California. Lum, now a successful businessman, has settled in Vo side of the family. Cherry gets more than she bargains for as pieces together her family’s past in Vietnam to discover the beginnings of the feud between the Truongs and the Vos.
Phan’s novel is less coming of age novel and more story about family expectations, loyalty, and plenty secrets. Themes not uncommon in most families. The story follows present day (Cherry) as goes back in time as we learn about the Truong-Vo feud and its aftermath once the families immigrate to the United States and France, respectively. I found the back and forth between past and present a little hard to follow, especially the letters in between the chapters.
With such a large extended family on two different continents, a family tree or some sort of chart would have been very helpful. I had a hard time remembering how everyone was related to each other.
Even with the many cousins and family members to keep track of, I couldn’t tear myself away from the story. I wanted to know how the feud began and why Lum became exiled. Phan’s novel shows how pride and lack of communication can tear a family apart and can affect future generations. Family pride and secrets can be found in every family, not just Vietnamese ones.
Add The Reeducation of Cherry Truong to your reading list. The novel isn’t just for Vietnamese Americans or Asian Americans. Cherry’s desire to learn and understand her family’s history is universal, and Aimee Phan‘s readers will relate to that.
I received a copy of the book for review. Affiliate links contained in this post.