Today I have a review of Family in Six Tones. A big thank you to FSB Associates and Viking Books for the gifted copy.
Lan Cao arrived in the United States as a refugee at just thirteen years old. She’s a mother now, and even after forty years in this country, she feels uncertain of her place. In writing this book with her American daughter, she is searching for the grounding she’s always wanted.
If you are looking for a unique book on an immigrant experience, this is a beautiful one. The writing is stunning and evocative. I loved that it included both the mother-daughter relationship push and pull, which many of us can relate to, along with the refugee experience. Lan experiences many traumas in her youth filled with war and tragedy. Harlan offers insights into the intergenerational impact of those traumas.
Overall, Family in Six Tones is a lyrically written novel in two voices that is both relatable and insightful, and an honest, loving tribute to mothers and daughters. The story is as eye-opening as it is resonant. I’m grateful to have heard from these voices, and I hope they have more to share.
I received a gifted copy. All opinions are my own.
About the Book:
A dual first-person memoir by the acclaimed Vietnamese-American novelist and her thoroughly American teenage daughter
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.
Family in Six Tones is at once special and universal, speaking to the unique struggles of refugees as well as the universal tug-of-war between mothers and daughters. The journey of a refugee–away from war and loss towards peace and a new life–and the journey of a mother raising a child–to be secure and happy–are both steep paths filled with detours and stumbling blocks. Through explosive fights and painful setbacks, mother and daughter search for a way to accept the past and face the future together.