Friday, May 21, 2010

What a Daughter Inherits

I really enjoyed reading Thanh's journals because it was so interesting to read a mother's take on her daughter. It definitely made me wonder what my own mother would write about me -- does she understand more than I give her credit for? I don't know if I'd want to read her journal if I stumbled across it. Are there some things about our parents we just shouldn't know? I put myself in Mai's place and wondered how it would feel to learn that my mother loved my father with a quiet resentment, or that there were things she desperately wanted to tell me but couldn't.

The more I think about Thanh's journal, the more I believe that she is writing it for Mai to find. In the first entry, Thanh writes about her ears and how she hopes to pass them on to her daughter. It's interesting to learn about what Thanh hopes Mai will inherit, knowing that Mai believes she's inherited her mother's "flawed eye," or the ability to perceive danger where there is none (20). Thanh doesn't know how to speak to Mai in a way she'd understand, so she writes down what she wants Mai to know for later. She feels that she can't directly tell Mai the story of her ears because Mai wouldn't listen since she's too busy trying to distance herself from Vietnam (language, family, culture) so she'll fit in better in America.

It struck me how much Thanh felt she and Mai were similar. Thanh's journal revealed how much she "gets" Mai even though Mai thinks they are nothing alike. Thanh compares her experience of moving to her husband's family's home, and accepting their ways as her own, with Mai moving to America and learning a new language and adopting a new culture. She writes that she understands what it feels like to discover that a "common dream" had never actually been commonly shared. She was referring to her marriage but also relating to Mai's early experience in America and her growing disappointment. I was also reminded about the difference between Mai and Thanh's perception of what was inherited (eyes vs. ears).

I thought it was interesting to see how Thanh was surprised to discover she was a Traditional wife/woman after marriage. My first impression of her marriage to Binh was that they were in love -- happy intellectuals. Thanh's second journal really fleshed out their marriage. She seemed disappointed with the way her marriage turned out -- the desire to have a perfect marriage was not shared by her husband. Binh didn't bend or change and Thanh followed him with a "muteness and mildness" (187). Thanh felt like an exile in her new life as a wife. This made me wonder what Mai was feeling when she learned about her mother's exile.

The section on karma also stuck with me. Thanh views karma as something passed from parents to children. I wondered what kind of karma Mai will inherit from her mother and Baba Quan. This line really stood out to me: "A child born from her mother's womb should be able to unlock double meaning" (171). With this line, I think Thanh is speaking directly to Mai. It seems to me, there are things Thanh wants to share with Mai but she can't -- either because Mai isn't open to listening or because Thanh doesn't know how to say them. I read the line as an accusation, or a scolding -- especially since she also wrote that it isn't enough for a child to obey, but they should also know their parents true wishes. Maybe there is something Mai should be able to discern without having to be told. I can't help wondering if Mai will come to the "true meaning behind all the outward conversations" all on her own? If Thanh reveals it to her, will she say it face-to-face or write it in her journal for Mai to find?



  1. Julia,

    Very interesting thoughts! I really enjoyed reading Thanh's journals as well, especially the first one. At the beginning of the novel, I felt like we only got Mai's perspective and it shocked me to read her mother's perception! It seemed as though Cao planted the journal perfectly, so that we might feel the same shock Mai must have when reading the journal for the first time. I also found it interesting, that Mai never really acknowledged her father. There are a few mentions of him, yes. But especially after reading that Thanh held only as you said, "quiet resentment" for him, we never really hear from Mai how she reacted to this piece of news. Or any of it really. It almost seems as though she never understood them until after the confessional letter at the end.

  2. Julia,
    You provided a lot of insight. I enjoyed reading Thanh's journal too because I was able to get an idea of who she was. Without the journals it would of been harder to decipher Thanh. Like Lindsay said in the beginning we only get one perspective of Thanh and it is through the eyes of Mai. Throughout the whole book I looked forward to reading Thanh's journals. I believe her journal really shaped the books significance. Mai's narrative and side of the story was rather predictable. Thanh's journals and confessional letters is what made the book interesting because of the family history, hardships, and customs that were discussed.