The book does not follow a linear narrative of her journey however. Instead, it’s more like a series of short, almost dream-like memories that skip back and forth through time.
The writing is exceptional. Thuy and her translator have created something that masters the subtleties of language, while using such an economy of words. Together, they paint the smells and colors of Thuy’s life, touching on both the beautiful and horrific. This is not for the fainthearted. In just a few well-crafted sentences Thuy evokes children working in the Asian sex trade for food, poverty-stricken street merchants without sufficient water to adequately clean dishes, her terrifying boat escape to Malaysia, and the ridicule heaped on immigrants after entering a new country. Along the way, there are also interesting insights into the differences between North and South Vietnam cultures — remnants of both the war and their differing ideologies.
As a reader, you meet Thuy’s large extended family and the difficulties many experienced making the shift from wealth and status in Vietnam to subsistence living in Canada. Seldom have I read so short a book that leaves behind such powerful images.