Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Reeducation of Cherry Truong

Generally speaking, the Vietnamese families who came to the United States at the close of the tragic war in that country have, as a group, done well here.  Their work ethic and devotion to education meant that most of them and their children would achieve financial security in remarkably short order.  Easily overlooked, however, is what it was like for whole families forced to leave behind everything but what they could carry with them.  Aimee Phan’s The Reeducation of Cherry Truong tells exactly what it was like for two of those families.

Spanning three generations and three countries (Vietnam, France, and the United States), The Reeducation of Cherry Truong is the story of interrelated families forever split because of a decision made by one man.  Cherry (pronounced like the fruit) Truong, having grown up in Little Saigon, California, does not know what happened all those years ago, but her efforts to convince her brother to return to California will finally expose her family’s secrets.  Under the leadership of Cherry’s maternal grandmother, Cherry and her cousins are living quite comfortably in California and have promising futures.  Now, however, her grandmother worries that some of her weaker grandchildren are looking for shortcuts to the easy life.

Things have not gone quite as well in Paris for Cherry’s paternal grandparents and her uncles but, there too, her cousins are preparing themselves for what they hope will be brighter futures.  Sadly, her grandfather is suffering from Alzheimer’s now, one of her aunts is unstable, and her grandmother has discovered a family secret on her own.  After visits to Paris and Vietnam, Cherry Truong’s reeducation will be done and she will understand the full impact of the choice her grandfather made all those years ago.

Aimee Phan
The Reeducation of Cherry Truong is about secrets and the destruction they can cause, but along the way, it offers genuine insights into family life in Vietnam both during and after the war.  Too, despite the fact that few of the book’s characters are especially likable, it is difficult not to admire what the two families achieve for their children.  Particularly touching is the ever-widening generational gap that becomes obvious as the first generation immigrants struggle to maintain the old ways that seem less and less important to each succeeding generation.

Readers should, from the beginning, refer to the two family trees offered at the beginning of the book.  Ms. Phan uses a series of old letters and flashbacks to several different points in time (and to all three countries mentioned earlier) to tell her story.  Paying attention up front to the various relationships will make it all much easier to keep track of - and will provide the reader with a much more rewarding experience.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)


  1. There is a large Vietnamese population where I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I would enjoy this book and the insights it would offer.

  2. Kathleen, I think what I liked most about the book is how clearly it shows the inevitable conflict between the immigrant-generation and the first generation of children born in the U.S. The elders usually want to hold on to their cultural tradition, the youngsters want to fit in with their peers, and conflict causes pain and friction for both generations. That's the real theme of the book.