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Expat wanderer

Uyen Nichole Duong: Mimi and Her Mirror

I must be on a streak. I really wanted to like this main character, Mi Chou (Mimi) but I found her obsessive, impulsive, overly emotional, self-absorbed and boastful. Her strongest relationship in the book is with her three way mirror. She specifically claims not to be narcissistic, and I think the story tells us otherwise.

The book is supposed to be fictional, and I truly hope some parts are fictional, but the strengths of the book lie in the ‘coming to America’ experience, which she captures well. She has a strong eye for ironies, hypocrisies and cultural differences. Her beginnings are vague, as is often the case when an immigrant goes through the shell-shock of being cut off from their own culture and grafted into another. I believe the author drew strongly on her own experiences to write this part of the book, and to me, it is the strongest part.

Mi Chau and her family leave Viet Nam during the great evacuation, and are given a spot on the planes that should have gone to someone else. Her entire family, mother, father, sister and brother all escape together, leaving behind a beloved grandmother who refuses to leave. Their entry into the US goes smoothly. They are the first wave of Vietnamese, the lucky ones. They have support, they have jobs. They have lost their own world, and they struggle. All this is part of the normal immigrant experience.

Neither is it abnormal that the children thrive through their struggles, and achieve excellent eduations. What is distracting to me in the book is how Mimi bases her self worth first on her academic excellence, and later in life on what she owns, and on her status. She has accomplished so much, she owns high-status symbols, but she is miserable and her life is empty.

Is it because of her experience as she evacuates out of Vietnam? Is it a character defect? There are no meaningful relationships in her life, she lives an empty and soulless existence, focusing on work and accomplishment and status symbols. Her major problem, as I see it, is an unwillingness to connect, to step out of herself and see through other’s eyes.

It’s an interesting book. There are, in my opinion, better books about the Vietnamese coming-to-America experience, and one is Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down about immigrant Hmong, which is rich in cultural teachings, rich in relationships, and I still remember details more than ten years after I first read it. It is only available in Kindle format now, through Amazon, although they may have a used copy from time to time. Way better book than Mimi.

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September 22, 2011 - Posted by | Adventure, Books, Character, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Lies, Living Conditions, Social Issues, Values, Work Related Issues

2 Comments »

  1. Mimi and Her mirror is not just about the immigrant experience. Your reading is biased and one sided.

    Comment by Ray Criston | February 9, 2014 | Reply

  2. You are right, it is not just about the immigrant experience, and her life subsequent to her immigration is self-absorbed, unsatisfying and her greatest accomplishments are empty triumphs to her. It was a sad book about a woman looking for her soul in all the wrong places.

    Comment by intlxpatr | February 10, 2014 | Reply


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