In one passionate essay, “Letter to a Young Iraqi Refugee,” journalist Andrew Lam, who was forced into exile from Vietnam as a boy, advises the youth: Learn to live with the contradictions of your new home, ally yourself to this country and let it transform you even as you transform it; tell your story. In the 20 other moving and insightful essays that make up East Eats West, Lam explores these contradictions and transformations while describing his own path to discovering his voice. What emerges is a picture of America being reshaped by the East. America, according to Lam, is now grappling with the effects of the artifacts and world views that accompany emigrants from Asia — pho, manga, martial arts, Hong Kong-style action movies, Buddhism, the ethos of hard work and entrepreneurship and strong and abiding communal relationships. Something is lost in the transplantation though, as the cult of the individual practiced in the West imprints itself on the emerging immigrant subjectivity. America whispers rebellion, Lam says, follow your bliss. This requires triumphalism of the individual over the communal. You can see this in Lam’s writing too: There is a lot that’s beautiful and wise in it, but some of it is triumphantly so.
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