Friday, October 9, 2020

Book Review: Family in Six Tones

It's FRIDAY!!! Thank goodness too because I'm over this week. I've really been in a weird funk/fog the whole week and I really don't know why that is. I started a book for the weekend, the kids are going to see their grandparents so it will be just Matt and I. I'm hoping to basically do nothing but read and sleep. It's kind of hilarious that those are my goals at this point in my life. 

Family in Six Tones  

Lan Cao & Harlan Margaret Van Cao

After more than forty years in the United States, Lan Cao still feels tentative about her place in her adoptive country, one which she came to as a thirteen-year old refugee. And after sixteen years of being a mother, she still ventures through motherhood as if it is a foreign landscape. In this lyrical memoir, Lan explores these two defining experiences of her life with the help of her fierce, independently-minded daughter, Harlan Margaret Van Cao.

In chapters that both reflect and refract her mother's narrative, Harlan describes the rites of passage of childhood and adolescence, as they are filtered through the aftereffects of her family's history of war, tragedy, and migration. Lan responds in turn, trying to understand her American daughter through the lens of her own battles with culture clash and bullying. In this unique format of alternating storytelling, their complicated mother-daughter relationship begins to crystallize. Lan's struggles with the traumatic aftermath of war--punctuated by emotional, detailed flashbacks to her childhood--become operatic and fantastical interludes as told by her daughter. Harlan's struggle to make friends in high school challenges her mother to step back and let her daughter find her own way.
If you are looking for a timely non-fiction, this is what you need to pick up. I am always interested in books centered around immigrants simply because I can't speak to it at all and I think the value of listening to someone else's story is that we can learn...and hopefully do better as humans. I was really immersed in this one and I think you'll find this fascinating. 

In Family in Six Tones we have two very different stories of the same experience, which is what makes this book magical. We have alternating chapters as we move through the story and I love that because you can almost hear the differences in their voices as you go, it makes you feel you're sitting in their living room hearing this. 

Interestingly, there was a part where Lan talks about the challenges she faced in school and not fitting in because the culture was just such an immense challenge. She came to America in the Vietnam War era, so tensions are already high so she's facing extreme racism and bullying, and now she's just trying to get lunch. Nowhere near the level of her situation, but I remember being around 9 or 10 and we had moved from Florida to Minnesota. You wouldn't think that would be an issue but kids made fun of my accent or make me say words so they could laugh, and take away my things until I said them. I had no idea what hot lunch or cold lunch meant so for days I had no lunch because I didn't know what to do. The milk used to come in these bags and I had no idea what to do and nobody would show me. Children are particularly cruel and I know some parents laugh and say "kids will be kids" but they forget how even those type of things stick with a person their whole life. So Lan has that kind of thing in addition to the horrors and trauma she endured in her birth country. 

She goes on to be successful and have a child, Harlan. It is HARD to parent a child when you have trauma and PTSD that you haven't dealt with. It's hard to do it while you're in the middle of dealing with it. It isn't like you can hit a pause button on being a mom, so we make mistakes and just hope they weren't bit ones. Harlan struggles between wanting to be a normal American teenager and her mom, and all of her experiences that get in the way of their relationship. Lan's childhood and memories of that have made her...  kind of paranoid, worrying of every scenario possible. The likelihood of those experiences having in suburbia America is slim to none, but Lan is so worried and it affects Harlan. 

I won't go into anymore of this but I found myself understanding Lan as a mom but I also understand Harlan because I have a teenager and between hormones and adjusting to teenager life and I'm having to loosen the reigns a bit. It's hard under the best circumstances, I can't imagine what it was like for these two. I absolutely loved this, I feel like we could all get so much for this. Even if all you get is a sneak peek at the process of coming to America, I'll take it. I hope you walk away with seeing the racial and cultural disparities immigrants and even American citizens face when they aren't cookie-cutter white. It's heartbreaking and it shows how far we have to go. I also think this would make an interesting read for upper high school or even college students as part of a curriculum, so many great conversations could be centered around this. 

I have to say thank you to FSB Associates for having me on this tour and sending me a complimentary copy for review. 


Why Girls Are Weird said...

I'm working like CRAZY this week and next so I feel like all I do is work and sleep. I think sleeping and reading sounds PHENOMENAL. I hope you have a wonderful weekend friend.

Laura's Reviews said...

I just added this to my TBR. It sounds fascinating!