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Linny and Van Luong are two second generation Vietnamese immigrant sisters from the American Midwest. Linny, the youngest, is pretty and popular but trapped in a cycle of dead-end jobs and hopeless affairs. Van, plain and socially awkward, is an overachieving immigration lawyer with a seemingly picture-perfect marriage. The sisters have been locked in a relationship of mutual disdain for as long as they can remember.
When their eccentric elderly father, inventor of the 'Luong Arm' (a gadget to help short people reach objects in high places), finally decides to take the oath for American citizenship in order to compete in an American Idol style reality show for inventors, the sisters must return to their childhood home to plan a party to celebrate the decision that took thirty years to make.
As they navigate their secrets, silences and all that has seemed out of reach to them for so long, Van and Linny realize that they are not so different from each other after all...
The enigmatic first novel from memoirist Nguyen (Stealing Buddha's Dinner) is a detailed character study of second-generation sisters who find themselves more anchored by their Vietnamese heritage than they had realized. Van and Linny Luong, estranged since their childhood in a suburb of Grand Rapids, Mich., return home for their father's American citizenship ceremony. Van, a lifelong goodie-goodie, finds herself abandoned by her husband, while Linny, Van's polar opposite, leaves her married lover once she discovers how he feels about her. Their father, a reluctant tile worker but enthusiastic inventor of devices to improve the lives of short people, provides a perfect diversion for his daughters he needs them to come with him to Detroit to audition for a TV show. When the audition doesn't go as planned and family secrets start to come out, Linny, Van and Mr. Luong all get a chance to set aside their past failures and find a way to remake themselves. Though not all of the ideas put into play about immigration and immigrant life work themselves out, Nguyen's novel is clever and lively, a fine update to a familiar setup.