Fig Tree £12.99 (292pp) (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Short Girls, By Bich Minh Nguyen
Friday 25 September 2009
A Vietnamese immigrant, Dinh Luong has always told his two diminutive daughters, Van and Linny, that America is the land of the tall. It's why he invented the "Luong Arm", a mechanism designed to enable "short girls" to secure items just out of reach. But as with his other inventions, such as the "Luong Eye", it's a design that's never been patented or sold. Of the two sisters, Van is the more serious and academic of the pair. An immigration lawyer with a preference for "sturdy chinos", she has never mastered the art of flirting. Meanwhile college drop-out, Linny, who works as a Chicago-based cook, flits from man to man. The two seem to share little in common, but at the start of this novel unexpectedly find themselves in the same boat: Van has been abandoned by her smug husband, Miles, and Linny by her latest married man.
Following on from her popular memoirs, Stealing Buddha's Dinner, Bich Minh Nguyen proves an amusing observer of assimilation angst. While Linny is patronised by her Michigan customers for her "exotic" good looks, she never passes up the opportunity of an "Asian Once-over": the head-to-toe sweep that puts fellow Asian-American girls in their place. While there's nothing in the book that you won't find in the early novels of Amy Tan, Bharati Mukherjee or Gish Jen, this gentle comedy of inter-generational strife is a polished and poised affair, culminating in rapprochement as the sisters re-establish family bonds. In the end it's self-belief that proves the most enabling invention of all.
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