Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Sigh, Gone by Phuc Tran

In 1975 Phuc Tran was only a toddler when his family fled the chaos of Saigon for rural Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Although nearly all of the residents were white, Phuc refused to be defined by his ethnicity. Instead, he reinvented himself with the help of punk rock, skateboard tricks, and classic literature. His debut memoir, Sigh, Gone captures both the despair and exhilaration of being a misfit American teenager. 

Phuc struggled growing up with parents who could barely speak English and with neighbors who couldn't pronounce his name or see beyond the Vietnam War. Although driven by love, his father's demand for academic perfection frequently crossed the line into physical abuse. Searching for a sense of belonging, Phuc found a chosen family of skateboarding punks, who shared his passion for iconoclastic music and reckless pranks. They accepted him as he was and offered him the loyalty he deserved.

While working at the public library, Phuc found salvation in literary heroes. Reading through an obscure list of great books by dead white men, Phuc aimed to master them all to win a scholarship to a New York university. Every chapter of his memoir is labeled after a great book, and their themes reverberate in his tumultuous life. His confessional story will make you laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time. 

Phuc Tran and his advisees at the Waynflete School
©Sarah Laurence

My family had been waiting eagerly for Phuc's memoir, and Sigh, Gone lived up to our high expectations. My daughter was lucky enough to have Phuc as her advisor in high school, where he taught Classics. Weekly "Awkward Lunch with Phuc" helped Gemma and many others survive those stressful but formative years. Phuc always put his students first and offered them the emotional support he wished he'd had in high school. 

I would highly recommend Sigh, Gone to anyone mature enough for uncensored teenaged boyhood. Although written for adults, I'm certain teens would enjoy its brutal honesty and ironic humor as well. If you want a preview, watch Phuc's Tedx talk, "Grammar, Identity, and the Dark Side of the Subjunctive." 

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@Barrie Summy


Linda McLaughlin said...

This sounds like a really interesting memoir and how cool that you know the author! Tweeted and shared.

Powell River Books said...

Makes me think back to my teaching days. I was a first grade teacher with a Spanish bilingual class. I wasn't fluent, but I could get by with the help of a fluent instructional aide. When the fall of Saigon came, I received a Vietnamese speaking student who was spirited out of the country with his mother by the man she worked for. That first day was a terrible experience for a child used to living in a war zone. When the bell rang for recess, he leapt onto a low shelf and cowered next to the wall. But gradually he became more comfortable and learned English amazingly fast. - Margy

Barrie said...

Wow! I love how Phuc helped high school students in ways he wished he'd been helped. I love stories of people giving back. And how amazing that Gemma was a part of that. Sounds like an interesting memoir. I'm thinking my boys would enjoy it. And thank you for the link to the Ted talk. Thank you for reviewing!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great person with an interesting life story. That's really neat that your daughter had him in high school.

thecuecard said...

Hi Sarah, this memoir sounds very good! And I hope to get a copy. I wonder does it cover more than his teenage years ? I am enjoying the video of the author now ...
also ps. I just finished the novel I Give It to You which you had reviewed earlier ... it was very good ... though I was sad about what happens to their friendship at the end of the book ... ugh!
Cheers. enjoy your fall.

David Cranmer said...

Thanks for bringing the memoir to my attention, Sarah. 2020 has been the year of poetry and memoirs for me.