The Gangster We Are All Looking For is the 2011 choice for One Book, One San Diego; which is a partnership between our local NPR station (KPBS) and the San Diego Public Library. Every year a committee chooses several candidate books and KPBS encourages listeners to go online and vote for their choice in a poll. The winner is promoted on KPBS throughout the year, the author does some interviews, and there discussions of the book are held at local branches of the Public Library system every so often. I think any program that encourages a whole city to read is pretty awesome, so I’m sort of ashamed to say that this is the first year I’ve participated.
This year I did it. I had heard excerpts from the book read aloud in KPBS promotions, and so I knew that it was a sort of memoir and was based in San Diego. That was enough to interest me sufficiently, as I’m a sucker for a good memoir, and the neighborhood I first lived in here in San Diego was just a few blocks from the largely Vietnamese area of City Heights. I picked up The Gangster We Are All Looking For at my local bookstore, as there were none available at any of our local libraries due to One Book One San Diego. I started it that night, and I finished it the next night. It’s a short book. And a good book.
The book is based on experiences that he author, lê thi diem thúy, had a as a child. Her arrival in San Diego as a refugee from Vietnam at the age of 6 with her father; her experiences growing up in various neighborhoods in San Diego (City Heights, Normal Heights, and Linda Vista), and the tumultuousness of her parents relationship once her mother arrived from Vietnam several years later. The imagery in her writing is so vivid, it’s so beautifully written, that the style is almost more poetic than prose. The book is loosely structured around her age progression; but she frequently jumps back and forth which was the only thing that I found to be a little bothersome.
I recommend The Gangster We Are All Looking For to anyone who lives in or is interested in San Diego; or the Vietnamese immigrant experience in San Diego.
PGMG rating: 4 out of 5 bowls of pho.