113th Annual Conference - Portland, Oregon
Friday, November 6 - Sunday, November 8, 2015

Bodies in Motion, Haunting Memories: Bearing a Post-Boat Life in Tran Vu’s Dragon Hunt and Thi Diem Thuy Lê’s The Gangster We Are All Looking For

Soh Yeun (Elloise) Kim, University of Washington

My paper reads Tran Vu’s Dragon Hunt (1999), together with Thi Diem Thuy The Gangster We Are All Looking For (2003), as stories of collective, diasporic, trans-generational silence, trauma, and haunting to examine how memories of the dead and death are carried away over temporal and geographical distance onto people who are dis- and relocated while surviving a precarious life as refugees.  


This paper will read Vietnamese writer Tran Vu’s Dragon Hunt (1999), a collection of short stories, together with Vietnamese American writer Thi Diem Thuy Lê’s  The Gangster We Are All Looking For (2003), to examine how memories of the dead and death are carried away over temporal and geographical distance onto people who continue their life with a traumatic experience of dis- and re-location as refugees.  Though Vu’s stories are located in Vietnam while Lê’s work focuses on the story of an immigrant family who immigrated to the US, both books illuminate the on-going vividness and resonance of Vietnamese people’s loss and hardship occurred during their dire attempt to escape from their home, particularly by boat.   

I read Vu’s and Lê’s work as stories about silence, trauma, and haunting which are collective, diasporic, trans-generational, and often unconscious.  From the life that is so close to death, some luckily manage to escape, but many others are permanently trapped in.  A move that is supposedly keenly organized and planned to save their lives more than oftentimes turns into a chaotic disarray; a boat, their flimsy means for survival, almost always costs too many lives.   The violent rupture symbolically as well as literally happens to those people who put themselves onto the tugging water, continues on even after they get on a still land - the malady both physical and psychological persists.  On one hand, the brutal force of national and global politics that force them out of their home further produce them ghostly through negligence and systematical erasure; their beings are rendered illegible.  However, refugees’ individual stories also evaporate for they silence themselves as to what happened to them there.  So much about it becomes unspeakable due to unbearable agony.  Silence is deemed to function as a coping way to bear a life for survivors of a grim boat journey as they are helplessly disturbed by traumatic memories.  Yet, I’d like to question “what one can learn from listening to silence” of those who are in diaspora, as Grace Cho questions, as a way to engage with traumatic memories oscillating “between a failed remembering and an incomplete forgetting” (Cho 79) when subjects of the haunting memories refute to remember or even when they do not exist anymore.

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