I was twenty-one years old when I started studying for my doctorate in English. Isabelle Thuy Pelaud was a friend of mine, and had started graduate school perhaps a year before me (if you want to see what Isabelle and I looked like in graduate school days, go to the end of this post). Early in my first semester, I went in for a required one-on-one meeting with C, the department chair at Berkeley, a very famous specialist in American literature. I had written a thesis on Vietnamese women’s literature and had read nearly everything available in English by Vietnamese American writers, which wasn’t much in the early 1990s. When C asked me what I wanted to work on in graduate school, I said, Vietnamese American literature. He said, “No, you can’t. You won’t get a job.” What was I supposed to say to that? I went to a mentor in the department, a suave Marxist, and told him of C’s opinion. My mentor said, “C may be conservative, but he’s not dumb.” As in: there was no professional future in Vietnamese American literature.
“Pelaud has produced the first book specifically devoted to Vietnamese American literature. The poignancy of this benchmark is not to be missed. Her book is a timely contribution to the field of Asian American literary studies and to the emergent subfield of Vietnamese American literary and cultural studies. She makes Vietnamese American literature readily visible for readers who are interested in finding an anchor through which to wrestle with this corpus of cultural work. I have a deep appreciation for what Pelaud has done.”
—James K. Lee, Associate Professor of Asian American Studies, University of California at Irvine, and the author of Urban Triage: Race and the Fictions of Multiculturalism
So here we are nearly twenty years later, and a lot has changed. We have the first book on Vietnamese American literature, Isabelle Thuy Pelaud’s this is all I choose to tell: History and Hybridity in Vietnamese American Literature. The title comes from a poem by Truong Tran. The book arrived in the mail the other day, and it’s a sleek book, featuring cover art by Binh Danh, the cover designed by Viet Le. Pelaud and Le are members of the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network, Binh Danh is an artist we all know is going to blow up, and Truong Tran is an old stalwart on the literary scene. In many ways, then, the book feels like a product not only of Isabelle’s tireless commitment to Vietnamese American culture but also of an entire collectivity of people working in different ways to forward their own visions and through them, Vietnamese American culture.
“Immediately indispensable, exactingly researched, and beautifully written, This Is All I Choose to Tell is both an introduction to and a road map for an expansive analysis of Vietnamese American literature. By carefully and judiciously introducing her personal story and journey from immigrant to academic, Pelaud has created a work that is both necessary and brave.”
—Monique Truong, author of The Book of Salt and Bitter in the Mouth
I read Isabelle’s manuscript for the book a couple of years ago and knew it was going to make a difference. It’s foundational, as in clearing the way for other scholars to talk about Vietnamese American literature, creating a touchstone for professors who can teach Vietnamese American literature to their students, and identifying for young or aspiring writers the very possibility of such a thing as Vietnamese American literature. The book isn’t hard to read, and I mean that as a compliment, so go out and buy it for yourself or give it to an aspiring writer so that person can know he or she is not alone. If you’re in San Francisco or the Bay Area, come to the DVAN fundraiser and release party for the book on January 14th at Andrew Lam’s condo complex (more info here). Food, drink, music, dancing, lots of readers, cameos by Elaine Kim and David Palumbo-Liu, heavyweights of Asian American cultural criticism, news of DVAN’s forthcoming anthology on diasporic Southeast Asian women’s art and literature, and a book signing by Isabelle herself.
–Viet Thanh Nguyen
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