The Land South of the Clouds

Ge­naro Ky Ly Smith

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction - KAREN RIGBY

Uni­ver­sity of Louisiana Press Soft­cover $20 (341pp) 978-1-935754-80-0

This sharp, chro­matic el­egy for child­hood of­fers an in­sight­ful look at the com­plex­i­ties of in­her­ited grief.

The Land South of the Clouds, by Ge­naro K`y Lý Smith, charts a lost son’s tur­bu­lent course from an im­mi­grant neigh­bor­hood in Los An­ge­les a few years af­ter the Viet­nam War, to Viet­nam in 1997 and back. With im­mense tal­ent for draw­ing ab­sence and longing, Smith presents a sear­ing novel about a fam­ily torn by his­tory.

Long-vanh, a half-black, half-viet­namese tenyear-old, lives in fear of his mother’s de­par­ture. Tor­tured by the knowl­edge that her father is im­pris­oned in a Viet­namese reed­u­ca­tion camp, she threat­ens to leave home to join his side, with a Sam­sonite suit­case that rep­re­sents the weight of her sorrow. When the long-fore­told aban­don­ment takes place, Long-vanh is forced to re­vise the truth in or­der to sur­vive. This heart­break­ing premise dra­mat­i­cally crescen­dos in a mo­ment of mis­guided na­tion­al­ism that puts an en­tire com­mu­nity at risk.

Amid the story of the prob­lems of be­ing raised as an Amerasian child, the au­thor’s abil­ity to over­lay a volatile at­mos­phere with si­lence, ac­tion with sta­sis, and de­spair with fruit­less hope stands out. Days are punc­tu­ated by the wait for mail from Viet­nam. News of Long-vanh’s grand­fa­ther—over­heard and trans­lated—haunts Long-vanh’s dreams and adds to his mother’s iso­la­tion in Amer­ica. As Long-vanh ex­pe­ri­ences bul­ly­ing, wit­nesses his par­ents’ strife, dis­cov­ers his father’s se­crets, and fights to find a place in a city where he seems to re­mind ev­ery­one of his in-be­tween­ness, the snare of his mother’s sur­vivor’s guilt be­gins to fray.

Strong char­ac­ters such as Long-vanh’s cousin Phuong and Un­cle Ngô bring nec­es­sary light to the emo­tional ma­te­rial. Phuong es­pe­cially— de­spite her own fam­ily’s tragedies—grows into a life­line for the trou­bled pro­tag­o­nist.

With an eye for the mul­ti­ple faces that peo­ple re­veal un­der pres­sure, the novel of­fers an in­sight­ful look at the com­plex­i­ties of in­her­ited grief. This sharp, chro­matic el­egy for child­hood blooms into a story of find­ing a way back from pain.

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