Through 11 dovetailing stories that begin in the 1980s and move toward today, Angie Chau‘s absorbing debut collection, Quiet As They Come, follows three branches of an extended family that has miraculously escaped the Vietnam War. The 12 refugees attempt to adapt and survive the challenges of their new American immigrant lives, crowded into a San Francisco home amid “lots of hidden closets and corners and secrets inside.”
In the title story, Huong, whose beauty once graced Vietnamese billboards, uses her insomnia to avoid her ex-professor husband, who despite his degrees, struggles to find something beyond menial labor. As he admires their two daughters’ “ability to adapt in this new world,” he is silently apologetic that “his daughters did nothing to deserve their adult mess, their wars.”
Chau, who took a decade to complete this collection, has an unflinching ability to render horrific memories (death-defying boat escapes, years of prison torture), then effortlessly capture the careless energy of two giggling teenage cousins trying to flirt their way into a free cup of coffee at the local café. Her stories are a powerful mix of tragedy and kindness, of miscommunications and all-too-painful empathy, which, bound together, are a resonating homage to many an immigrant.