Catfish and Mandala

Catfish and Mandala

A Two-wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam

Book - 1999
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Baker & Taylor
A Vietnamese-American returns to the land of his birth in a poignant memoir of the consequences of war and the divide that still separates Asian Americans from the dominant culture. Tour.

McMillan Palgrave
A Vietnamese Bicycle Days by a stunning new voice in American letters.

Andrew X. Pham dreamed of becoming a writer. Born in Vietnam and raised in California, he held technical jobs at United Airlines-and always carried a letter of resignation in his briefcase. His father had been a POW of the Vietcong; his family came to America as "boat people." His sister committed suicide, prompting Andrew to quit his job. He sold all of his possessions and embarked on a year-long bicycle journey that took him through the Mexican desert, where he was treated as a bueno hermano, a "good brother"; around a thousand-mile loop from Narita to Kyoto in Japan; and, after five months and 2,357 miles, to Saigon, where he finds "nothing familiar in the bombed-out darkness." In Mexico he's treated kindly as a Vietnamito, though he shouts, "I'm American, Vietnamese American!" In Vietnam, he's taken for Japanese or Korean by his countrymen, except, of course, by his relatives, who doubt that as a Vietnamese he has the stamina to complete his journey ("Only Westerners can do it"); and in the United States he's considered anything but American. A vibrant, picaresque memoir written with narrative flair and a wonderful, eye-opening sense of adventure, Catfish and Mandala is an unforgettable search for cultural identity.

Book News
Pham was born in Vietnam in 1967, moved with his family to California, and now lives in Portland, Oregon. Here he chronicles his return to Vietnam, his travels on a rickety bicycle, and his search for cultural identity. While his father's time in a communist reeducation camp is discussed, the heart of the narrative is Pham's depiction of his five- month journey in Vietnam. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Blackwell North Amer
Catfish and Mandala is the poignant, lyrical tale of an American odyssey - a solo bicycle voyage around the Pacific Rim to Vietnam - made by a young Vietnamese-American man in pursuit of both his adopted homeland and his forsaken fatherland. Intertwined with an often humorous travelogue spanning a year of discovery is a memoir of war, escape, and, ultimately, family secrets.
There is Pham's stepgrandfather Le, the fish-sauce baron of Phan Thiet, who claims his ancestors invented the condiment; his father, a POW of the Vietcong, who finally leads his family on a perilous boat journey to the land of their freedom; and his beloved sister Chi, a post-operative transsexual who commits suicide.
Pham deftly limns the lasting scars of the Vietnam War and the plight of a refugee family to create a haunting portrait of America, framed by the perspective of an outsider, a stranger straddling two continents.

Publisher: New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, c1999
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780374119744
Characteristics: 344 p. ; 24 cm


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May 22, 2016

I read this while travelling in Vietnam. Much of the 1999 description still holds true. An interesting and well written memoir.

Apr 03, 2010

Wrong cover and description.


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