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Review: Thanh Ha Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again

Posted November 17th, 2011 by Peter · 2 Comments
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THANHHA LAI WINS BOOK PRIZE

by Dan Bloom

Thanh Ha Prize Inside Out

Vietnamese-American writer Thanhha Lai won a National Book Awards gong
for young adult fiction titled ”Inside Out & Back Again” at the
recent 62nd National Book Awards ceremony
Cipriani’s on Wall Street in New York. In accepting the Young People’s
award for ”Inside Out & Back Again”, Lai said: “This is more than I
could ever have expected.”

”Inside Out & Back Again”, published by Harper, is about a young
girl named Ha, just ten years old, whose young life is changed when
the Vietnam War comes to her home city of Saigon.
With her family, Ha flees when Saigon falls, and starts a new life in Alabama.

Of her own life in Vietnam and the USA, author Lai says: “I was born
in Vietnam in 1965 (The Year of the Snake), where life was good. I
went to school, ate lots of snacks, was ‘top dog’ in my class, and was
the youngest of 9 children. Yes, I know, nine? But it was wartime, and
people were told to have lots of babies.”

”On April 30, 1975, North Vietnam (the Communist side) won the war,
and my family and I (living in Saigon, South Vietnam) scrambled onto a
navy ship and ended up in Montgomery, Alabama. Why? Believe me, we
didn’t know about Alabama to choose it. But to enter the United
States, refugees had to have a sponsor. The man who had the nerve to
take on all of us (10 in all) lived in Alabama.”

”Life got more complicated, with me not speaking English and never
having tasted a hot dog. Add to that my looks. I was the first
real-life Asian my classmates had ever seen. ”

Lai adds: “It took about a decade to get acclimated and to learn
grammatically correct English. By then we had moved to Ft. Worth,
Texas, where I I was born in Vietnam in 1965 (The Year of the Snake),
where life was good. I went to school, ate lots of snacks, was top dog
in my class, and was the youngest of nine children. Yes, I know…nine.
But it was war time, and people were told to have lots of babies.

On April 30, 1975, North Vietnam (the Communist side) won the war, and
my family and I (living in Saigon, South Vietnam) scrambled onto a
navy ship and ended up in Montgomery, Alabama. Why? Believe me, we
didn’t know about Alabama to choose it. But to enter the United
States, refugees had to have a sponsor. The man who had the nerve to
take on all of us (10 in all) lived in Alabama.

thanhha lai inside out back again

Life got more complicated, with me not speaking English and never
having tasted a hot dog. Add to that my looks. I was the first
real-life Asian my classmates had ever seen.went to high school. I
received a degree in journalism from University of Texas, Austin. I
covered the police beat at The Orange County Register in California
for two years.”

”Then I got this insane idea that I should quit and write fiction.
After many false starts and an MFA in Creative Writing from New York
University, I published my first novel.”









”Now I’m in New York City, teaching at The New School. Life’s good:
running, biking, reading, writing, and chasing around my four-year-old
daughter.”

“I try to read a novel a night. As soon as my daughter goes to bed, I
read. If I love the novel, I read every word until I finish it. If not
so much, I flip and get the essence of what the writer is doing.

”I get to write Tuesdays through Fridays, usually. Something always
comes up, but I can count on 15 solid hours a week to sit there and
see what happens.

”I have a garden. I throw seeds down and see what comes up. Usually,
the tomatoes and kale win. And I have raspberry bushes in tubs,
making it easier to water.

”I salivate over the idea of having a chicken coop. Just three hens,
quiet and productive. So far I just read about other people raising
chickens in the city, in the suburbs. I’m plotting.

”And I exercise because I’m really not meant to sit still, and so far
writing is all about sitting still. I bike 10 miles to teach.
Otherwise, I try to run a little. Then I go home and eat too much.” ]

Lai got her undergraduate degree at the University of Texas in Austin,
and MFA in New York.

The book?

In all the ten years of her life, the character we come to know as Ha
has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its
traditions, the warmth of her friends close by, and the beauty of her
very own papaya tree.

But when the Vietnam War reaches her home. Hà and her family are
forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward
hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the
coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food compared to spicy
and tasty Vietnamese fare, and the strange shape of its landscape –
and the strength of her very own family.

”Inside Out & Back Again” is the moving story of one girl’s year of
change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to
another, one life to the next. Would make a nice movie or children’s
TV special, too.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 coach outlet uk // Feb 12, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    Its like you read my mind! You appear to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something.

  • 2 essayfast.com // Aug 29, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    My congratulations! I think this book is really awesome!

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