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Book chronicles family’s struggles during Vietnam war

By Ania Szneps on June 6, 2015


Caroline Vu will be a panelist for Under the Papaya Tree – Remembering Vietnam at Prose in the Park on Saturday, June 6 at 2:30 pm held at Parkdale Park.

In That Summer in Provincetown, Montreal-based writer Caroline Vu relives some of her family’s greatest hardships in Vietnam at the height of the war, their collective attempts at building new foundations and identities in North America, and reflects on each individual’s perceived success or shortcomings.

While Vu, who last year had her first novel published by the Ottawa-based collective Deux Voiler Publishing, allots each chapter to a family member, she also seamlessly interweaves their respective place in the household and highlights how an unnamed hierarchy based on a complex system of values shapes each person and determines their outcome in life.

Despite the horrors that the Vu clan withstands — particularly during the Vietnam War — there is one tragedy that is repeated at the start of each chapter, as if the narrator needs to remind herself of its realness and impact; the untimely death of Daniel, the narrator’s cousin.  Vu’s ease at writing and presenting a complete portrait of her family allows the reader an inside glimpse into what it’s like to grow up with conflicting ideals and truths and just how difficult, but also empowering, it is to be considered an outsider.

Although the tone of this novel is different from Vu’s Palawan Story, it nevertheless treats the reader to a reflection on family and how each individual’s act can have unbelievable consequences on others. That Summer in Provincetown is (at times) a not-so-gentle reminder of the importance of family to our identity — whether we are willing to accept it or not.