December 5, 2022

Short Girls

Author: Bich Minh Nguyen

Penguin Fiction: June 29, 2010

$15

Short Girls, the novel from Bich Minh Nguyen, will be available in paperback by the end of June from Penguin Fiction.

The story involves temperamental opposites Van and Linny Luong. Diligent, unassuming Van has found her calling as an immigration lawyer in the Midwestern suburbs, but no one knows that her picture-perfect marriage has suddenly evaporated. Her younger sister, Linny, fashion-forward and socially adept, lives in Chicago where she has drifted into a dead-end affair with a married man. Though both women feel untethered and burdened by a secret, they’ve never been able to confide in each other.

But then, after nearly thirty years in the U.S., their eccentric, invention-obsessed father decides to take the citizenship oath – a rite of passage he hopes will improve the prospects of his most prized creation, the “Luong Arm,” an instrument to help short people grasp objects that are out of reach.

When Van and Linny reluctantly heed the summons home they end up having to plan a celebration for him, replete with cha gio egg rolls, encounters with old friends from years past, and their father’s announcement that he will be trying out for a reality television show called “Tomorrow’s Great Inventor.”

In the time warp of a childhood home unaltered since their mother’s death and insulated by the same Vietnamese American community they grew up with, Van and Linny find they are bound by much more than the duties of culture and family history, or their aging father’s demands and whims. As they chart the uncertainty that has defined them, as well as the bitter irony of their romantic straits, Van and Linny discover in their common cause a new, enduring connection that sees them through the host of surprises to come.

Bich Minh Nguyen was hailed by the Chicago Tribune as “a writer to watch, a tremendous talent” for her debut memoir Stealing Buddha’s Dinner, and her charm and shrewd powers of observation are on brilliant display in this first novel. By turns deeply moving, wickedly urbane, and utterly entertaining, Short Girls chronicles the pitfalls and triumphs that govern all family lives. Nguyen’s insights into the complexities of duty, culture and ambition often shared by the children of immigrants make Van and Linny’s story fresh and unforgettable – a true American tale for our time.

Bich Minh Nguyen’s novel Short Girls was published by Viking Penguin in 2009 and was named a best book of the year by Library Journal. Her memoir-in-essays, Stealing Buddha’s Dinner, was published by Viking Penguin in 2007. It received the PEN/Jerard Award from the PEN American Center and was a Chicago Tribune Best Book of 2007, a Kiriyama Prize Notable Book, an Asian American Literature Award finalist, and the Great Michigan Read selection for 2009-2010.

Nguyen’s work has also appeared in publications such as Gourmet magazine; Dream Me Home Safely: Writers on Growing up in America; and Watermark: Vietnamese American Poetry and Prose.

Nguyen was born in Saigon in 1974. On April 29, 1975, the night before the city fell, her family fled Viet Nam by ship. After staying in refugee camps in Guam and at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas, they settled in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In Stealing Buddha’s Dinner Nguyen writes about growing up in a Vietnamese household in an “All-American” city in the deep 1980s.

She received an MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan and currently teaches creative nonfiction, fiction, and Asian American Literature at Purdue University. She lives in Chicago and West Lafayette, Indiana with her husband Porter Shreve (whose third novel, When the White House was ours, was published by Houghton Mifflin in September 2008).

Nguyen and Shreve have coedited three anthologies: 30/30: Thirty American Stories from the Last Thirty Years (Penguin Academic); Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: I & Eye (Longman); and The Contemporary American Short Story (Longman).

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