White Métisse

Kim Le­fèvre Jack A. Yea­ger (Trans­la­tor)

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews - CAMILLE-YVETTE WELSCH

Univer­sity of Hawai’i Press (MAY) Soft­cover $24.99 (296pp) 978-0-8248-7267-0

De­tailed and dev­as­tat­ing, Kim Le­fèvre’s in­ti­mate mem­oir White Métisse in­tro­duces Amer­i­can au­di­ences to the bru­tal lived ex­pe­ri­ences of bira­cial chil­dren in Viet­nam dur­ing its years as a French colony. In Le­fèvre’s in­ti­mate story, the scaf­fold of so­cial mores and prej­u­dice that sur­rounded her pro­vide in­sight into the sham­ing and negat­ing that typ­i­fied life for métisse girls.

In many ways, this story is larger than one per­son; it’s that of all the young women who fell for French sol­diers and were aban­doned, of mothers shamed for their mixed-race ba­bies, of wives forced to leave be­hind ev­i­dence of their in­dis­cre­tion. From farm­ing her daugh­ter out to rel­a­tives to aban­don­ing her at an or­phan­age, Le­fèvre’s mother makes painful de­ci­sions, and her child is left to try to un­der­stand her mo­ti­va­tions.

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween mother and daugh­ter is strained; each comes to rep­re­sent a va­ri­ety of mis­takes, nega­tions, and era­sures to the other. Le­fèvre de­tails the rise and fall of her fam­ily’s for­tunes, from small towns where chil­dren ran through the fields naked for most of their child­hood to op­u­lent fam­ily homes to lux­u­ri­ous board­ing schools to pun­ish­ing squalor. Con­stantly mov­ing be­tween be­ing con­sid­ered too French or too Viet­namese or not enough of one eth­nic­ity, Le­fèvre uses the re­ac­tions of her peers, her teach­ers, and most dev­as­tat­ingly, her mother, to show the way her birth made her an out­sider in her own coun­try.

Prose oc­ca­sion­ally bor­ders on re­portage but more of­ten ar­tic­u­lates a coun­try vy­ing for its own iden­tity even as Le­fèvre seeks her own. Viet­nam di­vides into two coun­tries, with the north and the south fol­low­ing sep­a­rate lead­ers. Chris­tian­ity and Bud­dhism vie for supremacy in the cul­tural psy­che, and as an in­creas­ingly ed­u­cated Le­fèvre ages, she too must de­cide who she will be.

Boosted by mo­ments of pro­found his­tor­i­cal change, Le­fèvre writes a com­ing-of-age story both of her­self and of her evolv­ing coun­try.

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