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First-Year's to Read Local Novelist's Account of Vietnamese Immigration


Over the summer, more than 650 incoming Smith students, the class of 2008, will delve into a novel by local author Le Thi Diem Thuy. The Gangster We Are All Looking For, Le’s first novel, depicts the story of a Vietnamese family that immigrated to America in 1978.

The book is required reading for all first-year students as part of their orientation to Smith. During their first week here, the students will discuss Le’s novel among their first-year housemates and with faculty members and administrators. The discussion groups take place in residence living rooms.

From the perspective of a 6-year-old girl, the novel illustrates, in vividly poignant detail, the monumental adjustments, losses of innocence and eventual triumphs of adaptation that accompany the immigration between lives of radical contrast.

The Gangster We Are All Looking For was chosen as this year’s first-year required reading because “it’s readable and challenging at the same time,” says Tom Riddell, associate dean of the college and dean of the first-year class, who chairs the committee that chooses the book for summer reading. “It’s style is intriguing and we think it will provoke engaging discussions both about the writing and the subject—the experience of people uprooted from one culture and transplanted to another.”

Le will visit campus on the evening of September 3 to present a reading from her novel and to answer questions from audience members. A reception and book signing will follow.

The summer reading program is intended to immediately engage new Smith students in meaningful discussion and reflection of a work that thoughtfully addresses a number of issues pertinent to modern society.

“We want students through this program to experience one of the most exciting aspects of the college’s educational environment,” says Riddell, “the opportunity to share the reading of a text and then to discuss it from the myriad views of the Smith community, and to do so in a context where people can listen to each other, present and think about ideas, and use that discussion to formulate their own enriched interpretation of the text and its subjects.”

Le’s novel joins past summer reading selections such as Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats, Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, and last year’s selection, Ian McEwan’s Atonement.


 
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