To Peter -
The books and poems and stories that I love the most usually have one of two things. They are stories I can relate to on a personal level, that touch a part of my own personal experience, or stories that transport me to new places and new perspectives. Your work does both.
I relate to your stories of loves and lovers, of the people that have passed through your life, even though you are gay and I’m straight. While the details may be different, they show the fragile universality of intimate human relationships regardless of who is involved. As someone who spent my early-adult years in San Francisco, your stories return me to a time in my life when everything was a new and interesting experience, and where love could be found around nearly every corner. You have brought me back to the parks and streets and apartments of the City, and reminded me why I fell in love with it in the first place.
But though I love those tales, I am absolutely enthralled by the stories of your family and Vietnam. I am a historian, in particular the Soviet Union and revolutionary communism, so I come into these stories with a very sound historical foundation and knowledge of colonial and revolutionary Vietnam and the war. But you make that history come alive! I read plenty of historical fiction, and I assign it in my classes, because I want my students to have an idea how abstract historical events impacted people’s lives. Your real life stories are as good as any fiction I could assign in my classes. They show the complexity of human experience among those who are living through a seemingly unending conflict; the compromises and betrayals, the sorrow and pain, the heroism and cowardice, the love and hatred, and how everyday life experiences could have an underlying political meaning, whether intended or not, often with unforeseen consequences. However, in the end, there is perseverance, if not always forgiveness. Have you read ‘The Sorrow of War’ by Bao Ninh? This is the only Vietnamese fiction I have read, written by a northerner about the war. I wish I was a real publisher, so I can collect these stories and make a book out of them. Your aunts and uncles and grandparents and parents – you are so lucky to have these stories. You have fully transported me to a different place and time, and introduced me to new people and perspectives that have truly enriched my knowledge of the world.
You paint pictures, as detailed and beautiful and illuminating as the accompanying photos. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you’re my favorite. And I'm starting to get used to the odd punctuation :-)
The photo is of a Shepard Fairy mural here in San Diego.