Boat People by Mary Gardner
A Novel

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Mary Gardner reminds us of our history: America itself is a country of boat people with ties to more than one world.

This powerful narrative, winner of the 1993 Associated Writing Programs award for the novel, focuses on Galveston, Texas, and a community of newly arrived Vietnamese. Struggling to maintain a balance between Vietnam and America, they live with one foot in each world. Close-knit families, now fragmented, dream of the "kingdom of elders left behind"; young girls shoulder responsibility far beyond their years; and homesick professionals, puzzled by American customs, strive to belong while clinging to the rituals that sustain them.

Seared by memories of escape and loss, these people are tough and funny too. There's Trang, obsessed by her mixed parentage and the quest for her American father; spunky little Xan, who acts out with Kung Fu; Linh, whose mother is hospitalized because of "the ghost husband in her head"; and Dr. Nguyen, savvy first-year medical resident but still a stranger. As this deeply felt novel examines the difficulties and possibilities for connection in a triracial culture—Vietnamese, Black, and American—it brims with memorable characters finding their way or easing the way for others.

About Mary Gardner

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Gardner is a native midwesterner who lived for five years in Galveston, TX, where she became unofficial social worker to a group of Vietnamese families. She has been a Woodrow Wilson Fellow and a recipient of a fellowship from the Danforth Foundation.
Published February 11, 1995 by W. W. Norton & Company. 278 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Boat People

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Work done, smiles, eager to help,'' and when Xan starts to do better in school, his fisherman father shows up during class and delivers a load of shrimp to the boy's teacher in gratitude.

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Publishers Weekly

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Vietnamese immigrants struggle with the burdens of faraway loved ones, unfamiliar customs and the scars of their flight from home in this evocative novel set in Galveston, Tex. Hai Truong is possessed

Feb 27 1995 | Read Full Review of Boat People: A Novel

Publishers Weekly

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Keeping Warm), who compares the struggle of Vietnamese immigrants to that of African Americans, fills her story with atmospheric details of Vietnamese culture and tradition, at the same time illuminating the uneasy ethnic mix of Galveston's lower-class community.

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