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Thy L 

US Knopf/Vintage UK Picador Published: 1/5/2003 Agent: Aragi Inc.   

All Rights Available

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Rights sold

Brazil only - Editora Rocco
Dutch - Contact
French world - Actes Sud
German - Luchterhand Literaturverlag
Italian - Casa Editrice Bompiani

This title has been nominated for the Book Of The Month Club First Fiction Award.

About the Book 

A momentous literary debut: the life of a Vietnamese family in America luminously observed through the knowing eyes of 
a child.

In 1978 six refugees - a girl, her father, and four "uncles" - are pulled from the sea to begin a new life in San
Diego. In the child's imagination, the world of itchy dresses and shabby apartments is transmuted into an unearthly
realm: she sees everything intensely, hears the distress calls of inanimate objects, and waits for her mother. But
life loses none of its strangeness when the family is reunited. As the girl grows, she continues to see, but
increasingly her matter-of-fact innocence eddies around opaque and ghostly traumas: the cataclysm that engulfed her
homeland, the memory of a brother who drowned, and, most inescapable, her father's hopeless rage for a father's
order. With the hard white light of a perfect gem, thy l has illuminated a world of great beauty and enormous
sorrows. THE GANGSTER WE ARE ALL LOOKING FOR is an authentically original story of finding one's place and voice in


" A beautiful, deeply moving story of a family. The more I read, the more I felt the family was mine."
Jonathan Safran Foer, author of EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED

"A detailed and moving saga of a Vietnamese family in America, subtly assembled from this limpid debut's kaleidoscopic 
array of gorgeous and troubling word pictures. 

The unnamed narrator's musings move forward and backward in time, from East to West, between her confused childhood and
the 'escape' she makes from her parents in California to relocate in the eastern US. The early pages describe her
flight, with her father (Ba) and four uncles, from Vietnam by boat, their arrival in San Diego, and troubled
relationships with a well-meaning American host family. After she and Ba have been reunited with her mother (Ma), the
narrator then describes their constant moves from one apartment and job to another. We learn about her parents' youth,
and Ma's estrangement from her family for having married "a Buddhist gangster" who's also her social inferior. As these
details emerge, thy builds a heart- wrenching picture of her narrator's abstracted, conflicted psyche, repeatedly
emphasizing the girl's preternatural sensitivity to new sights, sounds, smells, and textures while revealing the death
of her older brother by drowning in childhood, and how this loss haunted her family for many years after. The
consequent impressions of disorientation, resentment, and loneliness are powerfully conveyed by numerous abrupt,
startling images (a girl killed by a napalm bombing that "made her body glow, like a lantern"; a dead butterfly
preserved in a glass disk and employed as a paperweight; and a climactic vision of the bodies of small "silver fish"
washed out of the open sea onto a moonlit beach). The narrative thus resembles a song with a pronounced central
refrain, around which an infinite number of verse variations are clustered.

Beautiful stuff - and a brilliant debut." 
Kirkus, starred review

'L's first novel is a bracing, unvarnished, elliptical account of a Vietnamese refugee family, in America but not
yet of it, hobbled by an unfamiliar environment and their own troubled relationships. ..L allows no sentimentality
to creep into this work - indeed, she hints only subtly at the narrator's emotional state ("there is no trace of
blood anywhere except here, in my throat, where I am telling you all of this'"), as though any explicit show of
feeling were too frivolous for the subject at hand. This is a stark and significant work that will challenge
readers.' Publishers Weekly

'L Thi Diem Thy's first novel is a refugee's story - a story of Vietnam and America, of youthful yearning and adult
resignation, of unimaginable loss and of the tenacity of a memory. It is as vivid as a fairy tale, as allusive as a
poem...the telling itself reveals a distinctive, boldly poetic, almost ethereal sensibility...the culminative, almost
liturgical effect of the novel is both heartbreaking and exhilarating.' New York Times Book Review

l thi diem thy: When she and her family arrived in San Diego in 1978 - after fleeing South Vietnam and living for a
time in a refugee camp in Singapore - le thi diem thy was bombarded with images of the Vietnam War that did not jibe
with her memories of her homeland. "We saw Rambo. We saw The Green Berets," she recalls. "The war here is depicted as
spectacle. It's fixed in certain images - and they get replayed over and over again. And those images hold a certain
amount of weight, they trigger certain associations that don't vary that much. The primary focus is American
innocence and what's happening to the vet; you rarely get individualized portraits of Vietnamese people or even
Vietnam as a country outside of a landscape where America lost its innocence." A performance artist who currently
lives in Massachusetts, le wrote her first book, a part-memoir, part-novel called The Gangster We Are All Looking
For, as a response to these Western depictions of the war and the Vietnamese people. "What I am doing," she says, "is
trying to create representations or narratives that I don't see, that I would like to see but haven't. Book Magazine:

'...poetically spare but psychologically rich debut novel...there is much pain in this exquisite novel, and much 

'...slender and elegant first novel...While the novel brilliantly illuminates its unlikely troika, what the narrative 
leaves out is just as striking. It seems significant that descriptions of the Vietnam War barely figure in the story 
and that American characters remain fuzzy, undifferentiated and impressionistic. In this way, the relationship of this 
engaging and original novel to more conventional American narratives of Vietnam may be thought to be like a 
photographic negative: What's white is dark, what's dark is white, and the image is strange and mesmerizing.'
Los Angeles Times Book Review

'...a deceptively powerful chronicle or a Vietnamese immigrant family in California, told in the voice of a girl who 
sense her parents' longings as strongly as her own and has a painter's eye for every color and find detail of her 
world...Throughout the book, the sentences are deceptively simple, with concrete details and a palpable emotional 
Boston Globe

'The book's originality issues from thy's use of language...Like Art Spiegelman in his wondrous Holocaust memoir
"Maus," thy's narrator weaves scenes of her parents' captivity in the hairy paw of history with glimpses into her
own at-risk childhood. Both artists inscribe their parents' ordeals while discharging fear of turning into them. And
both Spiegelman and thy show they've been buoyed by a sense of proportion, in that they know that their parents'
suffering has been far more terrible than their own.' Newsday

Her shimmering debut novel...but thy has a soft touch and a knowing sense of timing...as this novel beautifully 
displays, writing is never a way out; in fact, it always takes one to the heart of the past.'
Denver Post 

'...a breathtakingly lyric roman a clef...Le's novel flows in luminous paragraphs that mingle past and present, 
creating a fluid sense of time in which the young girl's memories spill over and combine with those of her mother...'

'...poetic, arresting[reveals] itself scene by scene, each beautifully rendered occurrence a symbol of despair.  le 
occupies a unique space in Asian American fiction.  She writes about sorrow without sentimentality and about family 
without encouraging the usual stereotypes about the genial and loving immigrant clan.  She has crystallized the 
experience of being considered a foreigner in your own country"
The American-Statesman

"deeply, poignantly about what war, nationalism, politics, religion and history imprint upon an intelligent child."
The Mercury News 

"[A] beautifully written depiction of a Vietnamese family trying to adapt in Southern California.  The novel reads like 
memoir but where fiction has been blended into reality is impossible to tell.  It doesn't matter.  le's response to the 
details of the new world is what gives a largely plotless book a resonance that keeps us turning the pages, enjoying 
the pleasure of the narrator's company.   "The night I left Vietnam," the narrator tells us, "it was my father who 
carried me down to the beach and placed me on the fishing boat.  During hours that must have been ones of fear, anxiety 
and desperation, my only memory is of how calmly I sat waiting for him."  This same calm suffuses the narrative through 
conflicts with landlords, battles between husband and wife, teenage rebellion.  It offers us an unexpectedly sweet 
oasis in what could have been a bitter tale."
The New Mexican

"[A] series of exquisite vignettes.  These passages are suffused with longing.   Because the girl describes 
self-contained scenes, the book has a plotless feel to it.  And yet so much happens.  Her mother comes to America.  The 
fate of her brother is revealed.  The girl grows and strikes out on her own. It's a window into a sadness we've heard 
about but seldom understood." 
The Star Tribune

"haunting  The Gangster We Are All Looking For .. presents a stunningly fresh voice in American fiction, describing the 
searing dislocation and loss of refugee life with exquisite beauty and tenderness [It] is like a necklace strung from 
carefully wrought paragraphs, each containing a piercing image: a butterfly caught in a paperweight, shoes arranged in 
a display window, a father crying under a palm tree like a lonely dog."
The Sunday Record

"[A] small marvel.  Its quiet power and precise, luminous writing unsettles the reader's mind repeatedly. Told with 
tenderness and honesty, each poetic sentence creates imagery so haunting that the reader has to glance away in order to 
reflect on each image, making this author original and unique. beautiful sorrowful writing."
Palisades Park 

THE GANGSTER WE ARE ALL LOOKING FOR first appeared in the Massachusetts Review, was reprinted in Harper's and was
additionally included in BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS '97 Thy L was selected by the Voice Literary Supplement as a "Writer
on the Verge" for '99, which commented, "(Her) sensitivity to life's transitory happiness enriches her
autobiographical forays. Writing of her parents, Le captures the magical thinking of childhood with its shifting
awareness of the wonders and apprehensions of life: 'I trail behind them, the tip of their dragon's tail. I am
suspended like a silk banner from the body of a kite. They flick me here and there...'

"...THE GANGSTER WE ARE ALL LOOKING FOR is a poetic, impressionistic glimpse of Vietnamese refugees experience in 
America.  The uncles become a kind of greek chorus to our narrator's child's-eye understanding of her new home as she 
awaits the arrival of her mother and struggles to understand the traumatic circumstances surrounding their departure 
from Vietnam...Le's prose...is hypnotic.  An iridescent blend of simplicity and enchantment, it magics a world in which 
butterflies speak, chickenpox scars are diamonds, and the Mexican man in the French bakery tries out phrases from his 
English language tape on bags of flour.  A poignant debut full of hauning images."

Hephzibah Anderson - The Observer

"L's gently insistent debut novel captures a sense of drifting thanks to its fragmented, lifting narrative: 
appropriate for a tale about Vietnamese refugees.  A girl (our narrator), her father and four 'uncles' are pulled from 
the sea near California.  The girl's innocent curiosity and astonishment at simple things hides traumas that grdually 
reveal themselves: the horror of the Vietnam War; her older brother's death; her parents' struggle in their new world; 
her father's breakdown.  Delicate, graceful and moving."

Siobhan Murphy - Metro

'...told with a poetic sensibility and a sharp eye for the matter of everyday life.'

The New York Time - Editor's Choice

If you don't often read first novels, make an exception for this brief, elegiac work, which recreates in a skilfully
shaped mosaic the life of a Vietnamese family who came as boat people to the US. It divides, like the life of the
family, into two halves, each composed of vivid fragments, a diaspora of story-telling through which images of water
run in a unifying stream l thi diem thy has a brilliant touch with physical detail, and a sorrowful universal
wisdom about the power of previous generations to harrow us with our neglect of them, our abandonments. The
Independent (UK)

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