by Bich Minh Nguyen
Van and Linny Luong were as close as could be growing up, but as they grew older the sisters drifted apart. When their father proudly throws a party to celebrate his new American citizenship, it is the first time the sisters have seen each other in years. Van, the responsible older sister with a law degree and beautiful home, is struggling to hide her failing marriage from her family while younger Linny is working – temporarily, she promised herself – to mass-produce frozen homemade dinners for wealthy Chicago after ending an affair with a married man. Their father is an inventor who dreams of his creations and believes one day he’ll strike it rich creating devices that will aid short people in a world designed for taller bodies.
The Luongs came to Michigan from Vietnam in the 1970s, but their daughters were both born and raised in the United States. Van and Linny act as a bridge to the outside world for their father, who speaks English with difficulty and has trouble communicating with the Americans outside his tight-knit group of Vietnamese friends, while never quite fulfilling the roles of traditional, proper Vietnamese daughters. Van also specializes in immigration law, and through the cases she takes on the reader is exposed to some of the major issues facing immigrants in a post-9/11 America.
The title, Short Girls, reflects an obsession of Mr. Luong’s, who constantly reminds his children that they were short people growing up in a world designed for taller people. It’s a way of reminding them that they are outsiders, and they have to work harder than other people just because they’re made a little bit different. It helps emphasize the larger themes of the immigrant experience and the role of the ex-patriot community for first and second generation Vietnamese. As Mr. Luong comments at one point, he is “normalized” after becoming an American citizen, but only his daughters are truly “naturalized”.
My hometown, San Jose, has the largest population of Vietnamese-Americans in the country, so I interact with Vietnamese on a daily basis. But as a literary group, the Vietnamese-Americans haven’t yet developed a strong voice, partly because the Vietnamese communities are relatively new. But authors like Bich Minh Nguyen are ensuring that the experiences of her community will be heard, and personally I’m excited about it. I enjoyed Short Girls and look forward to reading more from Nguyen and other first-wave Vietnamese-American authors.