Donna Seaman, June 1, 1997, Booklist

Mar 02, 2020 by Lan Cao, in Monkey Bridge

Not only is this Lan’s first novel, it is one of the finest dramatizations of the experiences of Vietnamese refugees in the U.S. Lan herself was airlifted out of Saigon in 1975, and she has transformed her prismatic memories into a stunning and powerful drama. The title refers to the tenuous bamboo bridges that sway above the rivers of the verdant Vietnamese countryside, a resonant symbol of the fragility of links between people and nations, the past and the future. 

As Lan’s young heroine, Mai Nguyen, learns over the course of her war-torn childhood and abrupt relocation to Farmington, Connecticut, even the strongest connections to home and loved ones can break under the weight of events greater than ourselves. Mai and her widowed mother escape the terrible aftermath of the war, but while Mai takes readily to American life, her mother, haunted by her losses, recoils from the place she calls “the great brand-new.” Much of Lan’s tale evokes classic immigrant quandaries, but her vivid characters have the added burden of being perceived as the enemy in a shameful war, a twist Lan explores with exquisite sensitivity.