A Vietnamese Odyssey.
This is the poignant, lyrical tale of the odyssey - a year-long solo bicycle voyage around the Pacific Rim to Vietnam - made by a young man in pursuit of both his adopted homeland and his forsaken fatherland. One of the Vietnamese boat people, he returns to the country his family fled and delivers a searing memoir of war, escape and secrets.
Pham finds himself a stranger on two continents. Viewed through his outsider's eyes and told in an accomplished voice, 'Catfish & Mandala' discloses the new Vietnam, its scarred landscape dotted with elusive, tenacious people grappling with their unique brand of capitalism. Their stories are at once ephemeral and lasting, their faces fleeting, intense, memorable. There is Pham's stepgrandfather Le, the fish-sauce baron of Phan Thiet; his father, a survivor of the Vietcong's camps, who led his family on a perilous boat journey to the land of their freedom; and his beloved, but sexually disoriented and suicidal sister, Chi.
And Pham's America is no less characterful or haunting. The scars of its wars remain, and the plight of its refugees is affecting and horrifying. Nowhere can Pham declare himself home without reservation. In Vietnam, he's taken for Japanese or Korean by his countrymen, except for his relatives, who doubt that as a Vietnamese he has the stamina to complete his journey ("Only Westerners can do it"). And in the US, of course, he's considered anything but American.
A vibrant picaresque memoir written with narrative flair and an invigorating sense of adventure, 'Catfish & Mandala' is an unforgettable search for identity and a moving exploration of memory, from a gifted new writer.