Birds of Paradise Lost: Stories about Vietnamese Immigrants in California
The past plays itself out in surprising ways in the lives of people who thought they had moved beyond the nightmares of war and exodus. It comes back on TV in the form of a confession from a cannibal; it enters the Vietnamese restaurant as a Vietnam Vet with a shameful secret; it articulates itself in the peculiar tics of a man with Tourette's Syndrome who struggles to deal with a profound tragedy. Birds of Paradise Lost is an emotional tour de force, intricately rendering the false starts and revelations in the struggle for integration, and in so doing, the human heart.
Date of publication: March 01, 2013
Praise for Birds of Paradise Lost:
"Andrew Lam's Birds of Paradise Lost brilliantly engages the fundamental theme of much great literary work: who am I and what is my place in the universe? His stories are elegant and humane and funny and sad. Lam has instantly established himself as one of our finest fiction writers."
—Robert Olen Butler
"Read Andrew Lam, and bask in his love of language, and his compassion for people, both those here and those from far away. He reminds us that we have history in common; we can laugh and cry together."
—Maxine Hong Kingston
“While Andrew Lam’s characters share a broader history, each story is an entire world that Lam animates fully with remarkably spare strokes. What these stories have in common is the intelligence behind them, which is at once fierce, compassionate, and wonderfully perverse. Each story pleases and surprises, and the collection as a whole resonates long after the reading is done.”
—Elise Blackwell, author of Hunger
“Andrew Lam is one of a handful of writers who are truly necessary to the emotional and intellectual health of American culture today. Whether exploring the contemporary political ironies of the streets, the fates of individual victims of war, or the indefinable tenderness between lovers, his stories show us truth we may have turned away from or never recognized. Lam’s stories go deep and stay with you a long time.”
—Frank Stewart, Editor, Manoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing
“These poignant, sometimes humorous, often heart-rending stories gift us with the voices and faces of the Vietnamese-American community: a community that has finally been able to express itself through the fiction of a new generation of writers such as Andrew Lam. Yet this is also fiction which in its universal and human truths pulls off the delicate trick of both including and transcending the ethnic genre and firmly situates Lam among the best writers of American—and world—literature.”
—Wayne Karlin, author of Wandering Souls: Journeys with the Dead and the Living in Viet Nam
“Lam has already demonstrated his charisma and wisdom in his essays. With his first collection of stories, he shows that this energy and wit transfers quite easily to his fiction, compelling us with painful, complex stories of perseverance and hope. You will read through these stories quickly, voraciously, and then you will read them again, keeping these characters in your heart, for years to come.”
—Aimee Phan, author of We Should Never Meet and The Reeducation of Cherry Truong
“When I grow up, I want to be Andrew Lam. I want to write with a kind of voice that is both charming and full of sadness and humour. Mr. Lam is an important writer, providing a unique lens into American life. Yes, someday, I would like to be Andrew Lam.”
—Noël Alumit, author of Talking to the Moon, a Los Angeles Times Bestseller
“Lam writes with heart and humor, delivering stories that pack an unexpected emotional punch.”
—Angie Chau, author of Quiet As They Come
“As a fellow Vietnamese American, I don’t read Andrew Lam’s stories; I experience them. There are very few writers who can achieve this for me; Andrew can.”
—Lac Su, author of I Love Yous Are for White People.
“What strikes me the most in Andrew Lam’s short stories is the author’s ability to capture insights about the small but extraordinary moments of life, the various rational and irrational factors that drive people to connect or set apart, and the gap between those who hold dearly to the past and those who can let go of it. Lam does this through refined language and subtle poking at societal norms. The exploration of love, detachment, lust, and the complex family dynamics generated with Vietnamese American successes on the West Coast is both deep and entertaining.”
—Isabelle Pelaud, Asian Americans Studies Professor at San Francisco State University, author of This Is All I Choose to Tell
“Whatever happened to the Vietnamese ‘boat people’ who escaped after the fall of Saigon? ‘A lot’ is the simple answer; for a complicated, often scabrously funny account, read Andrew Lam’s stories. They are so American, so unexpected, so nuanced and robust, that you will be informed, charmed, and deeply moved.”
—Howard Junker, Editor Emeritus, Zyzzyva
“Loss, longing, the riotous, the incongruous: There is nothing predictable here. Lam revels in the unexpected and makes it his country.”
—Gish Jen, author of World and Town
“Grandma is in the freezer, there's Zoloft in the chicken curry, and a man is on fire in Washington D.C. The immigrant story will never be the same again now that it's gone through Andrew Lam's prose – razor-tongued, sophisticated, achingly aware of where it comes from but never imprisoned by its memory. Lam takes the traditional immigrant story and set it ablaze and then serenely rescues from its burning embers what had been there all along – the all-American story.”
—Sandip Roy, commentator, Morning Edition, National Public Radio
About the Author
Andrew Lam is the author of Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora, which won the 2006 PEN Open Book Award, and East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres. Lam is an editor and cofounder of New American Media, an association of over two thousand ethnic media outlets in America. He was a regular commentator on NPR’s All Things Considered for many years, and was the subject of a 2004 PBS documentary called My Journey Home. His essays have appeared in newspapers and magazines such as The New York Times, The LA Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Baltimore Sun, The Atlanta Journal, the Chicago Tribune, Mother Jones, and The Nation, among many others. His short stories have been widely taught and anthologized. Birds of Paradise Lost is his first story collection. He lives in San Francisco.