It is not often that we read a memoir with such power, such lucidity, such passion that doesn’t get lost in the personal but informs, provides history, and makes us think hard about what it means to be an American woman from somewhere else, what it means to be in the margins even when things go well, and how a visit home reveals that you now have two homes and each provides you a glimpse of “self”, but reminds you that your “place” is neither fully here nor fully there. Hoàng’s Why Do You Look at Me and See a Girl? is a powerful reminder that a woman from somewhere else’s humanity is fluid, transnational, transcultural and personal but never ceases to speak to a collective reality of so many other women. I have no doubt this memoir will take its place among the best of Vietnamese, immigrant and American stories of self.
Anvi Hoàng’s Why Do You Look At Me and See a Girl? is an authentic memoir of growing up in Vietnam…, coming to America, journeying around the world in search of peace. Hoàng writes from the voice of experience, commemorating with the memories and the ghosts of her past. Why Do You Look At Me and See a Girl? is a work for the present and an offering for the future.
Anvi Hoàng’s compelling Why Do You Look at Me and See a Girl? is described as “part memoir and part social criticism.” It is certainly a fine example of both those genres. But at its deepest level it takes up the central theme of all great literary fiction: the enduring quest for a self, for an identity, for a place in the universe. And on that level Anvi Hoàng’s book is simply literature, fiercely engaging and genuinely moving literature.
Beginning with a distant war and ending with the uneven realities of capitalist life in a global era, Anvi Hoàng delivers an insightful, feminist, and cross-cultural work that illuminates both Vietnam and the United States.
The author has created a moving account of bridging past and present, home and homelessness, sorrow and joy, and traditions and ideals in the course of her life. Interweaving an elegy for her grandmother with Hoàng’s own journeys across geographical space and inner time, we understand for ourselves how Hoàng’s journey is our own as well. We feel to follow the author’s path as she learns to disregard and move beyond that which would derail her path towards joy and acceptance. The timeless and spaceless search for one’s true home unites us all, and we realize we can no longer see each other as “just” anything—“just a girl,” “just an Asian,” “just an American.” Highly recommended.