Title:  Inside Out and Back Again

Another children's book that should be required reading for adults
Another children’s book that should be required reading for adults

Author:  Thanhha Lai                                                                                                 Publisher:  Harper Collins                                                                                      Publication Date:  02/22/11                                                                                       Format: Hardcover, 288 pages                                                                                        Genre: Children’s fiction

Rating:  I loved this book.  I have had good luck lately.  I’ve been reading books that not only have an enlightening, well-worded narrative, but that are also artfully crafted.  The poetic, diario structure of this novel might be distracting in the hands of a lesser writer, but here it only enhances the experience.  This is another 5 of 5 for TNR.

Overview (reprinted from Barnes and Noble.com):  For all the ten years of her life, Ha has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by, and the beauty of her very own papaya tree. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Ha and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope.

The Nashville Connection:  Almost 12% of Nashville’s population (according to the 2010 census) was foreign-born.  This should be required reading for everyone in town, in order to help us better understand the processes of emigrating, immigrating and assimilating.

Review:  The journal of a young girl, written in free-verse.  The construction could have been a cheap gimmick to create an immature voice, it could have taken the reader completely out of the story; it didn’t.  It made the small tragedies in the life of a young emigrant seem exquisite.  It removed self-pity and created a reliable, if not impartial witness.

Fortunately, the readers who can afford to purchase this book and who have the time to read it at leisure will likely never know what it means to lose a father, a home and a country, then feel the duress of assimilating to a new culture.  Also in the fortunate category, Thanhha Lai’s beautiful novel evokes every emotion that one can imagine might go along with such a journey.

At a time when current immigration is a hot topic in our country, and the history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam is important as those veterans become the grandfathers of our children, it seems like reading a novel such as this one should be mandatory.  Not only because it will pass an intuitive and emotional history on to posterity, but because it could inform our own understanding of current affairs.

This book deserved every award it was given, and maybe one that it wasn’t.  This was published in the same month as Swamplandia, and the fact that an albeit well-written novel about an Alligator Farm got nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction, and Inside Out and Back Again as far as I know did not, makes me a lot less surprised that the award was not given. Maureen Corrigan and her fellow members of the nominating committee may have missed the boat.

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