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Dust Child
by Que Mai Phan Nguyen

Published: 2023-03-14T00:0
Hardcover : 336 pages
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From the bestselling author of The Mountains Sing, a richly poetic and suspenseful saga about two Vietnamese sisters, an American veteran, and an Amerasian man whose lives intersect in surprising ways, set during and after the war in Vi?t Nam.

In 1969, sisters Trang and Qu?nh, ...

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From the bestselling author of The Mountains Sing, a richly poetic and suspenseful saga about two Vietnamese sisters, an American veteran, and an Amerasian man whose lives intersect in surprising ways, set during and after the war in Vi?t Nam.

In 1969, sisters Trang and Qu?nh, desperate to help their parents pay off debts, leave their rural village to work at a bar in Sài Gòn. Once in the big city, the young girls are thrown headfirst into a world they were not expecting. They learn how to speak English, how to dress seductively, and how to drink and flirt (and more) with American GIs in return for money. As the war moves closer to the city, the once-innocent Trang gets swept up in an irresistible romance with a handsome and kind American helicopter pilot she meets at the bar.

Decades later, an American veteran, Dan, returns to Vi?t Nam with his wife, Linda, in search of a way to heal from his PTSD; instead, secrets he thought he had buried surface and threaten his marriage. At the same time, Phongâ??the adult son of a Black American soldier and a Vietnamese womanâ??embarks on a mission to find both his parents and a way out of Vi?t Nam. Abandoned in front of an orphanage, Phong grew up being called â??the dust of life,â? â??Black American imperialist,â? and â??child of the enemy,â? and he dreams of a better life in the United States for himself, his wife Bình, and his children.

Past and present converge as these characters come together to confront decisions made during a time of warâ??decisions that reverberate throughout one anotherâ??s lives and ultimately allow them to find common ground across race, generation, culture, and language. Immersive, moving, and lyrical, Dust Child tells an unforgettable story of how those who inherited tragedy can redefine their destinies with hard-won wisdom, compassion, courage, and joy.

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Child of the Enemy

H? Chí Minh City, 2016

â??Life is a boat,â? Sister Nhã, the Catholic nun who had raised Phong, once told him. â??When you depart from your first anchorâ??your motherâ??s wombâ??you will be pulled away by unexpected currents. If you can fill your boat with enough hope, enough self-belief, enough compassion, and enough curiosity, you will be ready to weather all the storms of life.â?

As Phong sat waiting at the American Consulate, he felt the weight of hope in his handsâ??his visa application, and those of his wife Bình, his son Tài, and his daughter Di?m.

Around him, many Vietnamese were waiting in chairs or in lines for their turn to speak with one of the visa officers who sat at counters behind glass windows. Some Vietnamese cast curious glances toward Phong and he felt the heat of their eyes. â??Half-breed,â? he imagined them whispering. Throughout his life, he had been called the dust of life, bastard, Black American imperialist, child of the enemy. These labels had been flung at him when he was younger with such ferocity that they had burrowed deep within him, refusing to let go. When he was a child living in the Lâm ??ng New Economic Zone with Sister Nhã, he once filled a large bucket with water and soap, climbed inside, and rubbed his skin with a sponge gourd to scrub the black off it. He was bleeding by the time Sister Nhã found him. He wondered why he had to be born an Amerasian.

â??Donâ??t worry, be confident and youâ??ll do well, anh,â? Bình whispered, reaching for him, the calluses on her palm brushing against his arm. Phong nodded, smiled nervously, and took his wifeâ??s hand into his. This hand had cooked for him, washed his clothes, and helped to mend the broken patches of his life. This hand had held him and his children, danced with them, yielded new seasons on their rice field. He loved this hand and its calluses, as he did every part of Bình. He had to fulfill his promise to bring Bình to America. Away from the rubbish dumps where she worked, collecting plastic, paper, and metals.

Sitting next to Bình, Tài and Di?m waved at him. At fourteen and twelve years old, they were nearly as tall as their mother. Theyâ??d both inherited Bìnhâ??s large eyes and her radiant smile. Their skin color and curly hair had come from him. â??Remember that you are beautiful,â? heâ??d told them as they got ready for the five-hour bus ride here. Heâ??d often said that to them, knowing how they were often looked at with disdain by the Vietnamese, who almost always preferred fair skin.

Tài returned to his book, his crooked glasses sliding down the bridge of his nose, the metal frame held together by pieces of tape. Phong reminded himself to talk with his neighbors again and offer a higher price to rent their paddy field. He would grow mung beans for the New Year, the harvest of which would enable him to buy new glasses for Tài and a dress for Di?m. Di?m was wearing Tàiâ??s old clothes; the pants were too short, revealing her ankles.

At a counter in front of Phong, an American visa officer was giving a young woman a blue sheet of paper. Phong knew the color well. Blue meant non-approval. As the woman left the counter, something like panic rose up in Phong.

He tried to recall the interview practice sessions heâ??d had with his family. He had carved the right answers into his memory the way carpenters carved birds and flowers into wood, but now his mind was blank.

â??Number forty-five, counter three,â? the loudspeaker called.

â??Thatâ??s us,â? Bình said. As Phong made his way toward the counter together with his wife and children, he told himself to be calm. As long as he had his family, he would not let himself be intimidated. He would fight for the chance to give Bình, Tài, and Di?m a better life.

Phong nodded his greeting at the visa officer, who looked just like the American women in movies heâ??d seen: blonde hair, white skin, high-bridged nose. The woman didnâ??t acknowledge him, her eyes on the computer. Phong studied the machine, wondering what mysteries it held. When he got to America, he would work hard and buy a computer for Tài and Di?m. His children had taken him to town, to an Internet café, to show him how computers worked. They said perhaps one day he could send words to his parents via the Internet. But would he ever have that chance? He didnâ??t even know if his parents were dead or alive.

The visa officer turned to him.

â??Gút mó-ninh,â? Phong said, hoping heâ??d pronounced â??good morningâ? correctly. Years ago, heâ??d learned some basic English but his knowledge of the language had disappeared like droplets of rain evaporating during a drought. â??Chào bà,â? he added, not wanting the American to think that he was fluent in her language.

â??Cho xem h? chi?u,â? she said.

Her Vietnamese was good, but her Northern accent bothered Phong. It reminded him of the Communist officers who had beaten him at the reeducation camps in the mountains almost thirty years ago.

He carefully took their passports from a folder and eased them into the box under the glass window. He and his wife had given Quang, the visa agent, all their savings to get these passports made and their visa applications completed and submitted. Quang had convinced them that in America, they wouldnâ??t have to worry about money: a monthly allowance from the government would help them survive.

The woman went through the documents, typing on the computer. She turned away and called someone. A young Vietnamese woman appeared, talking to her in English. Phong cocked his head but the sounds were slippery fish that darted away so quickly, he couldnâ??t catch a single one.

â??Whatâ??s going on?â? Bình whispered. Phong placed his palm on his wifeâ??s back, knowing it would help calm her. Bình had been so nervous about missing this interview, sheâ??d insisted that they catch the bus from their hometown, B?c Liêu, the day before and wait outside the consulate at four oâ??clock this morning.

The Vietnamese woman looked at him. â??Uncle Nguy?n T?n Phong, youâ??re applying for a visa under the Amerasian Homecoming Act?â?

How nice that sheâ??d addressed him with a respectful title and given him hope by stating the name of the program he was applying for. Homecoming! The word was sacred, the sound of it fluttering in his heart. He was entitled to go home, to his fatherland. Heat gathered at the back of his eyes. And how nice the woman referred to â??Amerasianâ? as â??tr? lai.â? Phong had never felt comfortable when people called him â??con lai,â? since con means â??children,â? â??small,â? or â??animal.â? He was no animal.

â??Yes, Miss,â? he said.

â??Youâ??ll be interviewed by another officer. In the room over there.â? She pointed toward his right. â??The rest of your family should take a seat and wait outside.â?

Bình leaned forward. â??My husband canâ??t read. Can I please accompany him?â?

â??Iâ??ll be there to help,â? the woman said as she walked away.

The room was spacious, lit by fluorescent lights. It had no window and Phong felt sorry for anyone who had to work here. His home wasnâ??t much, but it was rich with fresh air. Air that rushed through open windows all year round, bringing with it the scent of flowers and bird songs.

The person he felt sorry for happened to be a plump, white man who sat behind a square brown desk, dressed in a blue shirt with matching blue tie.

The woman stood next to the desk, and Phong sat down on a chair opposite it. On the wall to his right was a large picture of Mr. Obama. A few years ago, Phongâ??s children had rushed home, calling him to come along. They ran toward their neighborsâ?? house, stood outside the fence, and peered through the open window to watch the TV reporting about Mr. Obama becoming the first Black president of the United States. â??America is the nation of immigrants,â? Mr. Obama was saying as people around him cheered.

For years Phong had wanted to go to America, but at that moment getting there became his lifeâ??s mission. A country that voted for a Black president had to be better than here, where Black people were sometimes called m?iâ??â??uncivilizedâ? or â??savage.â? Once, an owner of a food stall had laughed at him when he applied for a job as a dishwasher. â??Look at your skin,â? she sneered. â??My customers would run away because theyâ??d think you make the dishes dirtier.â?

Behind the table, the visa officer picked up a passport. â??Nguyen Tan Phong,â? he called. Heâ??d left out all the rising and falling tones in Phongâ??s full name and when he said it, the name meant â??a dissolved gust of wind,â? and not â??strength from thousands of gusts of wind,â? as Sister Nhã had intended it to be when sheâ??d named him.

Phong rose to his feet. The man started to tell him something. Phong tried to catch the sounds but once again, they wafted away from him.

â??Raise your hand and swear that you are a mixed race person of American descent and that you wonâ??t lie,â? the Vietnamese woman interpreted.

Quang, the agent, had prepared Phong for this. He raised his hands. â??I swear that Iâ??m a tr? lai. I swear that I donâ??t lie and that everything I say today is the truth.â?

â??How do you know for sure that you are an Amerasian?â? the man asked via the womanâ??s translation.

â??Sir, the color of my skin . . . Since I was little, I was called Black American.â?

â??But you could also be of Khmer decent?â?

â??No, Sir. Khmer mothers had no reason to abandon their children. I was . . . I grew up in an orphanage.â?

â??You have proof that you are the child of a U.S. serviceman, then?â?

â??I donâ??t know who my parents are, Sir. Iâ??m an Amerasian, Sir. Khmer people are short. Iâ??m one meter eighty. And my beard . . . Sir . . . Khmer men donâ??t have beards like this.â? He touched his thick hair, which ran from his ears to his chin, covering most of his cheeks. Even though the itching was sometimes unbearable, Quang had insisted that he let his beard grow for at least two weeks before the interview.

â??Did you previously apply for an immigrant visa with our consulate?â?

Phong blinked. Damn it. Quang had told him they wouldnâ??t dig it up.

â??Did you previously apply for an immigration visa to the United States?â? the officer repeated.

â??I . . . I canâ??t remember.â? Phong gripped the folder of documents. Sweat dampened his palms.

â??You canâ??t?â? The white man shook his head. â??Then let me refresh your memory. Your visa form says this is your first time applying, but . . . I have here your previous application.â? He held up a paper.

A cold feeling slithered down Phongâ??s spine. The paper had turned yellow, but he recognized the young man in the photo attached to it. It was him, back when he thought heâ??d found himself a good family. It was him, looking eager and full of hope. Just before Mr. Khu?t had snapped that picture, heâ??d wiped away a tear of happiness from his face.

â??This is your former visa application, isnâ??t it?â? the white man asked.

Phong rubbed his sweaty palms against his pants. â??Yes, Sir . . . It was many years ago.â?

â??More than twenty years. Tell me, why werenâ??t you granted a visa at that time?â?

Phong studied the deskâ??s surface. Smooth and shiny like a mirror. The person who made it did a fine job. If Phong could go to America, heâ??d learn to perfect his craft as a carpenter. Heâ??d use his monthly allowance to buy the wood needed to build all types of furniture, to be able to send his children to the best schools. He loved the smell of cut lumber and the feeling of accomplishing something. Heâ??d heard that in America people could achieve whatever dreams they had.

If he revealed the truth, heâ??d never get to go to his dreamland. â??I donâ??t know why I didnâ??t get a visa, Sir. I guess . . . I didnâ??t have all the papers.â?

The man shook his head. â??We didnâ??t ask for a lot of papers at that time. Immigrant visas were granted for Amerasians based on their looks. Your facial features alone could have gotten you a visa. Tell me the real reason.â?

Phongâ??s throat was dry. He wished he could snatch the yellowish paper out of the manâ??s hand and tear it up. Tear up the crook Khu?tâ??s writing on it.

The man frowned. â??You might think that we donâ??t know . . . but according to our records, you tried to bring other people along last time. You claimed strangers as your family members.â?

The words nailed Phong to the ground. He couldnâ??t move. Couldnâ??t lift his head.

â??Uncle Phong, you need to say something. Explain yourself,â? the Vietnamese woman said.

Phong clutched the folder of documents against his chest. The ache for his wife and children throbbed inside of him. He had to fight for his right to bring them to America. â??Sir . . . Iâ??m illiterate. The Khu?ts prepared those documents. They promised to help me in America if I brought them along. I was young and foolish, Sir, but at that time, many Amerasians were doing the same thing.â?

A lump welled up in his throat.

â??By trying to bring nonfamily members along, you took advantage of our governmentâ??s goodwill. You broke the law.â? The man looked him in the eye. â??For us to reconsider your visa application, you need to show us solid proof. Facial features are no longer enough.â?

â??Proof . . . Sir, what kind of proof?â?

â??Proof that you are in fact the child of an American serviceman. The military service records of your American father, for example, and matching DNA results of you and him.â?

â??DNA?â? Phong asked. The word didnâ??t sound Vietnamese. Perhaps the woman hadnâ??t translated it correctly.

â??Thereâ??s a type of test called a DNA test,â? the woman said. â??It can tell who your biological parents are.â?

Phong had talked to many people about finding his parents but no one had ever mentioned DNA testing. He was about to ask where he could take the test when the man added, â??If you have an American father, your father and you need to find each other, then you two submit the results of your DNA tests to show that youâ??re related.â?

â??You say that I need to find my father first, Sir? If you let me go to America, I can find him.â? He knew America was a large country, but heâ??d also heard that everything was possible in America.

The foreigner reached for a blue sheet of paper.

â??Sir . . . my children donâ??t have friends at school. Kids in our neighborhood donâ??t talk to them. They have no chance here. Please . . .â? Phong showed the man a photo of his children, taken in front of their home. Tài and Di?m were smiling shyly, their heads tilted toward each other. It wasnâ??t completely true that they didnâ??t have friends, but Phong had to make his plea more convincing.

The man ignored the photo. He signed the blue paper and gave it to Phong. As Phong stared at the many printed words, he winced and turned away. Sister Nhã had tried to teach him to read, but written words only brought him fear. He closed his eyes, shook his head and gave the woman the paper. â??Please, what does this say?â?

She cleared her throat. â??The U.S. Consulate in H? Chí Minh City regretfully informs you that, after a personal interview, your application for admission to the Amerasian program has not met the criteria identified in Section 584 of Public Law 100-202, amended by Public Law 101-167, Public Law 101-513, and Public Law 101-649, the Amerasian Homecoming Act. If at any stage in the future, you are able to submit new evidence to support your claim to Amerasian status, your case will be reviewed. To qualify for an Amerasian visa, you must prove to the Consular Officer that your father was in fact a U.S. soldier. Being of mixed ancestry in itself does not automatically make you qualified.â?

The woman returned the paper to Phong.

â??The fact that you falsified your application might disqualify you for any future application,â? the man said. â??Iâ??m not sure about your chances . . . but in the case that you have proof, send it to us. Goodbye.â?

Goodbye? No, not yet. Phong stepped forward. â??Sir, Iâ??m sorry I made a mistake, but Iâ??m a different person nowâ??â?

The man held up his hand. â??Once you have proof, send it to us. Goodbye.â?



Returning to the Land of Fear

H? Chí Minh City, 2016

â??Ladies and gentlemen, as we start our descent, please make sure your seat belt is securely fastened and all carry-on luggage is stowed underneath the seat in front of you or in the overhead compartments.â?

Dan took a deep breath and pressed his nose against the cold window, looking down.

â??See anything?â? Linda asked, leaning over.

â??Too cloudy,â? Dan sat back to give his wife a better view.

â??Weâ??ll be there before you know it.â? She smiled, squeezing his hand.

Dan nodded and kissed Lindaâ??s hair. Its peach scent gave him comfort. He couldnâ??t have done this without her. He had sworn he would never return to this place.

The plane rumbled through a thick bed of clouds. Linda flipped through the glossy pages of the Vi?t Nam Airlines Heritage in-flight magazine, scrutinizing photos of lavish villas built on top of lush hills, surrounded by white sandy beaches and rolling blue oceans. Theyâ??d both grown up in small, cramped homes, and he understood her obsession with beautiful houses, a mindset that had led her to become a real estate agent. Instead of just chasing money, though, Linda often searched out people or projects whoâ??d help veterans with down payments on new homes. Or affordable places for vets to rent. Vi?t Nam vets. Afghan vets. Iraq vets. â??Too many are homeless,â? sheâ??d told him. He loved her for that.

Outside, clouds still surrounded the plane, closing in. Their darkness stirred something deep inside of Dan. The old fear. His body tensed. He eyed the emergency exit. Two steps away. One step if he leapt.

At the airport, he had approached the check-in supervisor. â??Please, I need to sit by the emergency exit.â?

â??Excuse me, Sir?â?

He showed his disabled veteran card. Still, the manager shook his head. â??All seats next to the emergency exits have been taken.â?

He moved closer to the guy, whispering through gritted teeth, â??Listen, I need to be close to the exit or I canâ??t fly.â?

He was glad he fought for it and the exit was in front of him, not behind him.

He took a deep breath, telling himself to calm down. After a few long inhales and exhales, he saw clearly how ridiculous itâ??d been, the whole scene heâ??d made about the exit. Why was he always playing the stereotypical deranged vet? What was he going to do, kick out the door and jump out of the plane mid-flight?

He was putting on his headset, wanting to listen to some soothing music, when the plane lurched. Passengers around him murmured. The chair underneath him seemed to have disappeared and he threw his head back, hands gripping the armrests. The Airbus was losing altitude. Too fast. Heat surged through his body. The plane made a thundering sound when it bucked in the turbulence. The cabin shook violently.

The captain spoke over the loudspeaker, advising passengers to fasten their seatbelts.

The plane continued its violent shaking.

Inside of Dan, the old fear twisted, a serpent coiling and uncoiling.

He closed his eyes and suddenly he was back in the cockpit of his wartime helicopter, the clouds outside replaced by Vietnamese canopy jungle. The jungle was swirling wildly around the windshield. â??Weâ??ve only got about a foot and a half tail rotor clearance on the right,â? Hardesty was screaming into his headset. Flashes of AK-47 fire blazed from the forest floor. Rappa returned fire with his M-60, his shoulders shaking. AK-47 bullets were hitting the aircraft. A hole appeared in the plexiglass just above Danâ??s head. â??Receiving heavy fire. Nine oâ??clock! Heavy fire! Nine oâ??clock! On the north perimeter!â? McNair yelled into the VHF, the copilotâ??s voice high and panicky and then softening. â??Dan?â? A hand patted his cheek. â??You okay?â?

He opened his eyes. Some passengers were laughing in relief. The turbulence had passed. Dan blinked, his face hot with anger and embarrassment.

He shook his head, trying to chase away the images of his crew. But they were alive in his mind: his door gunner, Ed Rappa, making the sign of the cross, kissing the ground after their every mission; his crew chief, Neil Hardesty, chewing gum with his mouth open; his copilot, Reggie McNair, checking for the lucky, hole-filled socks he always wore when flying. Dan wished he could tell them he was sorry.

Why had they died while he survived? Heâ??d asked himself that question countless times during the last forty-seven years.

â??Hey . . . you need your pills?â? The lines on Lindaâ??s forehead deepened. He had added many more years to her appearance during their forty-five years of marriage. His rages that quickly gave way to uncontrolled weeping. His blackouts. His nightmares. The ghosts of his war.

â??Iâ??m okay, thanks.â? Tears welled in his eyes. He wrapped his arm around Linda, pulled her to him. She was his rock.

â??Your pills are right here if you want them.â? She gestured at her handbag on the floor under the seat in front of her.

He nodded, looked out of the window, yearning to see the ground. He wished for nothing more than to get off this plane. A long time ago, heâ??d loved the thrill of flying, the sense of immense freedom and unlimited possibility.

At nineteen, he joined the army and applied to be a pilot even though he didnâ??t think he had much of a chance. Many of his friends had either been drafted or had gotten their notices, so it was just a matter of time before heâ??d get called up anyway. And heâ??d figured that going into the army would give him the chance to travel, as well as the opportunity to attend college after his enlistment. When a letter arrived, telling him to get ready for eight weeks of basic training, a month of advanced infantry training, and then nine months of flight training, heâ??d shouted with joy so loudly that his mom dropped the colander filled with pasta she was making for dinner. She asked him what was wrong and he read the letter to her. He told her heâ??d taken many aptitude tests and to his surprise heâ??d passed. The recruitment officer had said the army urgently needed helicopter pilots in Vi?t Nam, but heâ??d thought thereâ??d be many people applying.

When his mom said that she didnâ??t want him to go, that he could be killed, he told her not to worry, that God would keep him safe. Like many nineteen-year-olds he thought he was invincible. It had taken him about a month in Vi?t Nam to lose that illusion. He was only twenty-three when he left the army, but he felt sixty. The knowledge of death had robbed him of his youth.

An announcement came from the planeâ??s loudspeaker. The female voice spoke Vietnamese. He closed his eyes, concentrating on its rise and fall. So lyrical, it sounded like a song. Like the lullabies Kim used to sing to him.

Something sounded familiar. â??Xin vui lòng.â? Did that mean â??pleaseâ?? Before this trip, heâ??d tried to reacquaint himself with the language, but it didnâ??t seem to help much.

Linda unzipped her bag, took out a jar of cream, lathered it onto her face. She put on pink lipstick. Her favorite color. She was turning sixty-six this year, but whenever he looked at her, he could still see the woman heâ??d fallen in love with. Theyâ??d gone to the same high school, and heâ??d started to notice her during his junior year. He could still picture her racing up the basketball court, her face red with determination, her tanned legs flying as she dove for a ball. Heâ??d always been glad his younger sister Marianne was on the team. Going to Marianneâ??s games gave him a chance to watch Linda.

â??Enough,â? Linda had told him several months ago, after heâ??d wept watching the news about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. â??In fact, more than enough, baby. We went way past â??enoughâ?? years ago.â? She showed him the commission check sheâ??d received from selling a condo. â??With this money, I want us to go and deal with your issues, once and for all.â?

We went way past â??enoughâ? years ago. She didnâ??t need to say this trip would determine if their marriage would survive; he sensed it in her voice. He knew she deserved to be happier, yet he also knew itâ??d be hell to be back. All his bad memories would come alive. But he owed it to Linda to face his ghosts. They were engaged by the time he left for Vi?t Nam and she was waiting for him when he returned. Sheâ??d stayed with him in spite of everything. But what if she knew the truth about Vi?t Nam? And about Kim?

He took his passport from Lindaâ??s handbag and went through the pages. His fingers began to tremble. â??Where the hell is it?â?


â??The visa.â?

She showed him the page with a brilliant red stamp. â??See? Still here and still valid.â?

He shook his head. Vi?t Nam unnerved him in ways he couldnâ??t control.

Shared with permission from Algonquin Books, Workman Publishing Co., Hachette Book Group 2023 © view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

From the publisher--added by Pauline

1. What did you know about Amerasians born into the Vi?t Nam War before you read this book? How do Phong’s experiences influence your thoughts about the impact of wars on women and children? What could be done to prevent these situations?

2. Were you aware of the number of Vietnamese women who worked in bars that served American soldiers? Describe the nature of the trauma and social ostracism that Trang and Qu?nh faced. How did the experience influence the relationship between the two sisters?

3. Describe Dan when he first arrived in Vi?t Nam, in 1969. Why was Trang first attracted to him? Trace how—and how much—the war changed Dan. Do you think wars have the power to change the moral character of human beings?

4. Which elements of Vietnamese culture described in Dust Child stood out to you?

5. Via the experiences of Linda and Thanh (the son of the Northern Vietnamese veteran who suffers from Alzheimer's), describe how war trauma is inherited by family members. What have Linda and Thanh done to help their loved ones cope with their trauma?

6. Discuss the ethics and complexity involved in the Amerasians’ search for missing parents. How do these ethical issues compare to other instances of people searching for their birth parents or lost family members?

7. How does Phong demonstrate his determination to survive and prosper? Describe his transformation throughout the book.

8. Describe the difficult decisions that Trang and Qu?nh had to make. What would you have done if you were in their situation?

9. What is Dan’s initial motivation for returning to Vi?t Nam? Do his reasons change during his trip? If so, how and why?

10. In Dust Child, Vietnamese words appear with their full diacritical marks in chapters written from the viewpoints of Vietnamese speakers. These marks are necessary to interpret meaning: for example, in Nun Nhã’s name, nhã means “elegant,” while nhà means “house,” nh? means “release,” nh? means “music,” nha means “teeth” or “dental,” nhá means “to chew carefully.” In chapters written from Dan’s voice, the diacritical marks are stripped away. Did the use of diacritical marks affect your reading experience? What do these two ways of representing the Vietnamese language show you? Does Dan’s understanding of the importance of diacritics change?

11. In the novel, Qu?nh says, “She had tried to live an honest life, but the war had given her no choice. It had forced her to make up a version of herself that was acceptable to others. In a way, making up stories had been the basis of her survival and her success.” Can lies be necessary for love, survival, and dignity? Were you surprised at Qu?nh’s decision, and what do you think about her as a mother?

12. Which Vietnamese proverbs in the book are your favorites? Which ones demean Vietnamese women? Do you have similar proverbs in your culture?

13. Have you tried any of the Vietnamese food described in the novel? Which ones would you like to eat and/or try to cook?

14. “Conversation about books represented the most intimate discourse. It revealed a person’s values, beliefs, fears, and hopes. Experiencing the same books enabled people to travel on similar journeys and brought them closer together,” Dan reflected in the novel. Do you agree with his statement? Has your book club enriched your life? If so, how?

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Overall rating:
  "A Perfect Book Club Choice"by Barbara C. (see profile) 03/22/23

This story is compelling, heartbreaking and so beautifully written by an author known for her poetry. Nguyen Phan Que Mai does an impressive job of showing us the far reaching impact war has on all those... (read more)

  "The book raises serious questions."by Gail R. (see profile) 12/19/22

Dust Child-Que Mai Phan Nguyen, author
This is a heartbreaking book about the Vietnam War. It highlights the dreadful effects of it on those that experienced the hardship that it brought, b
... (read more)

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