Lac Su, 'I Love Yous Are for White People'

October 7, 2009

loves_yous_are_for.jpgI'll admit I was skeptical, to start.

My first time hearing of Lac Su's memoir, he was doing an interview on NPR. In that smug/vaguely pitying white liberal way, the interviewer was fascinated with the book's title, and insisted that the title's story be aired (how a young Lac had tried those TV words of affection on his father, and been savagely rebuffed). Which made me wonder: would this be a book for telling white people things that we (sons and daughters of Asian immigrants) already damn well know? 

Thankfully not. Su’s story manages to be one of the Vietnamese gangster, the artist/writer, and the filial son all at once. An uncommon balancing act, but one that his easy, surreptitiously precise prose manages well. In fact, I read it all in one sitting.  

That the book is compelling is an achievement especially because each of the above strains of the Vietnamese refugee story has become its own cliché. Su tells his versions, though, with a grain that makes them fresh -- in the same way that our own lives are not clichés to us as we live them.  

His childhood was in many ways (including physical and sexual abuse, abject poverty, unfiltered racism) a brutal one. And the kid who survives such treatment without becoming their vicious or broken product, is something to write home about.  

But what truly works about the book is that Su manages his narrative with neither self-pity nor self-aggrandizement. (That the memoir does not fairly drip with delusions of grandeur makes it, I have to say, unique in the slate of autobiographies by Vietnamese American men to date.) I liked the Lac I met in his pages. And it is a long-awaited treat finally to have a Vietnamese American memoir to recommend reading; don’t worry, it’s not just for white people.


erin K Ninh

contributing editor & blogger

erin Khue Ninh is a former blog editor and onetime publisher of Hyphen, who won't seem to go away. She now teaches literature in the Department of Asian American Studies at UC Santa Barbara. Aside from Hyphen, erin believes in recycling, Planned Parenthood, and Type A first-borns.



i remember hearing about this book when it came out. good to know it's a thumbs up! will have to pick it up at some point.