rainy season in southern Asia
We pretend the
monsoon has come early.
have offspring or produce more individuals
The tired worm
reproduces much more slowly at the end of the day than at the beginning
having the sticky properties of an adhesive
This day Mother prepares an altar to chant for his return, offering fruit, incense, tuberoses, and
Two items on the list of offerings are foods, and two produce pleasant fragrances (a tuberose is a flower, and an incense stick smells nice when burned).
decorate with needlework
Now I am ten, learning to
embroider circular stitches, to calculate fractions into percentages, to nurse my papaya tree to bear many fruits.
make a sad face and thrust out one's lower lip
But last night I
pouted when Mother insisted one of my brothers must rise first this morning to bless our house because only male feet can bring luck.
become larger in size or volume or quantity
An old, angry knot
expanded in my throat.
tell in advance
This year he
predicts our lives will twist inside out.
copying the actions of someone else
Brother Vu screams, Ha Ya, and makes me jump every time he breaks wood or bricks in
imitation of Bruce Lee.
walk leisurely and with no apparent aim
We named you Kim Ha, after the Golden (Kim) River (Ha), where Father and I once
strolled in the evenings.
vow to rise first every morning to stare at the dew on the green fruit shaped like a lightbulb.
a socialist who advocates communism
But when we keep talking about how close the
Communists have gotten to Saigon, how much prices have gone up since American soldiers left, how many distant bombs were heard the previous night, Miss Xinh finally says no more.
Communism is a theory that favors a classless society where all the people equally own the means of producing goods. But in reality, private ownership is abolished so that everything is owned by the state, and government officials are at the top of the society.
Brother Quang says, One cannot justify war unless each side
flaunts its own blind conviction.
cause somebody to adopt a certain position or belief
It’s not easy to
persuade Mother to tell of her girlhood in the North, where her grandmother’s land stretched farther than doves could fly, where looking pretty and writing poetry were her only duties.
Although the line breaks are not shown in the example sentences, keep in mind that the novel is written in short free-verse poems. This can be seen here in the rhythm created by the repetition of words, sounds, and sentence structures.
censure severely or angrily
Wish Mother would stop
chiding me to stay calm, which makes it worse.
an aromatic shrub with usually mauve or blue flowers
Mother smells of
lavender and warmth
small very thin pancake
Like magic a
crepe forms to be filled with shrimp and eaten with cucumber and bean sprouts.
The crepe is a reminder of when the French had an empire that included parts of Southeast Asia. But as seen in the example sentence, the Vietnamese have transformed this food of their former colonizer and made it their own with the addition of ingredients native to their land.
a platform raised above the surrounding level
We stand in line; for even longer we sit on hot metal benches facing the
inclined to shake as from weakness or defect
I will not risk fleeing with my children on a
a favorite saying of a sect or political group
Ha will come home chanting the
slogans of Ho Chi Minh, and Khoi will be rewarded for reporting to his teacher everything we say in the house.
The definition gives the word a positive tone, but in the example sentence, "slogan" has a tone of fear, since it connects to the Communists who will teach children to repeat ideas and report on their parents.
a written agreement between two states or sovereigns
Mother tells me she and Father have a
very thin especially from disease or hunger or cold
Who can go against a mother who has become
gaunt like bark from raising four children alone?
a compact mass
Into each pack: one pair of pants, one pair of shorts, three pairs of underwear, two shirts, sandals, toothbrush and paste, soap, ten palms of rice grains, three
clumps of cooked rice, one choice.
not covered with clothing
Photographs: every Tet at the zoo, Father in his youth, Mother in her youth, baby pictures, where you can’t tell whose bottom is
exposed for all the world to see.
a moving crowd
Hordes pour by us, beyond us.
a slight push or shake
In the dark a
nudge here a
nudge there and we end up back on the first ship in the same spot with two mats.