"Dao Strom's We Were Meant to be a Gentle People is an astounding work of fracture and reconciliation. Filled with provocative images, sharp juxtapositions, and eloquent prose, this poetic memoir challenges our assumptions about aesthetic form and preconceived racialized, gendered notions of Vietnamese refugees in America. So many of Strom's lines and lyrics and pictures are already blazing through my head like lost stars searching for a sky. A poignant and powerful work."
– Bao Phi, poet (Sông I Sing)
We Were Meant To Be a Gentle People
A memoir in text + image + song. In this unique work of literary multimedia, author/musician Dao Strom navigates the spaces between shores, mother and father, two cultures.
The daughter of writers, she fled Vietnam with her mother at the end of the war. It was not until years later that she learned her father was still alive and that he had spent a decade in Communist “reeducation” camps as persecution for his work as a writer in the pre-1975 era of Saigon. This rift—caught between the forward-looking mother who severed ties with the past, and the only tenuous presence of a father who could not turn away from the past—is the initiating ethos behind this memoir, which renders itself also as an experiment in literary multimedia, combining text, image, and song to express the nuances and buried emotions of aftermath.
The book, We Were Meant To Be A Gentle People, is accompanied by a music album, East/West, that explores two “geographies.” The result is a multidimensional work that draws disparate “voices” together into one confluent, challenging whole.
Press Otherwise/Paperdoll Works (Oct 2015)
Paperback: 200 pages
“There’s a beauty to the quietness in Strom’s writing as she opens up the space between the lines, letting readers work it out for themselves.” ---TimeOut Chicago
“Quietly commanding in voice and perspective... This illuminating and subtly daring collection can be read on many levels.” ---Booklist
“...an acute, often painful, exploration of identity, displacement, and sexuality.” ---Venus Zine
THE GENTLE ORDER OF GIRLS AND BOYS
From The New Yorker:
Strom’s second collection explores the lives of four Vietnamese-American women through their interactions with men. The book is informed by the Vietnamese immigrations of the nineteen-seventies but is filled with social observation of contemporary middle-class culture and indie sensibility. A film student observes that her friend is not “the first disgruntled, slightly sexually embittered male in his twenties” to identify with Travis Bickle, then silently wishes that he would “close himself—save face.” A professional party girl from Ho Chi Minh City who has married a rich Texan secretly prefers the clean uniformity of a nearby housing development that her husband hates. A free-spirited young mother senses some indistinct but imminent blessing that makes her float through her cocktail-waitressing job “feeling so sharp . . . lucid and empowered.” Quietly beautiful, Strom’s stories are hip without being ironic.
A book of four novellas about four women. Vietnamese women navigating American lives, men, landscapes.
Counterpoint Press (Jun 2006)
Hardcover: 352 pages
“Strom’s writing is stunning: powerful yet modulated, impressionistic yet substantial. Her clear ability, combined with the important stories she has to tell, mark her as a force to be reckoned with.” ---The Washington Post
“…the best complication is..the way the book keeps changing voice and viewpoint. There is little sentiment here. Instead, a cool, appraising eye is at work… Strom covers a lot of ground: wartime Saigon, post-hippiedom rural California, the ethnic neighborhoods of San Diego. Her lyrical-analytical prose is especially lithe in its reading of character, cultural displacement and the after-effects of war… It feels like the work of a major writer.” ---Seattle Times
GRASS ROOF, TIN ROOF
“…an aching sense of rootlessness and identity crisis make for an affecting and memorable debut.” ---Kirkus Reviews
In this novel of linked stories about a Vietnamese family resettling in the isolation of California gold country, Dao Strom investigates the myth of westward progress and the consequences of cultural displacement.
Told from multiple perspectives and interwoven with the intimate reflections of a middle child, Grass Roof, Tin Roof begins with the story of Tran, a Vietnamese writer facing government persecution, who flees her homeland during the exodus of 1975 and brings her two children to the West. Here she marries a Danish American man who has survived a different war. He promises understanding and guidance, but the psychic consequences of his past soon hinder his relationships with the family. The children, for whom the war is now a distant shadow, struggle to understand the world around them on their own terms.
In delicate, innovative prose, Strom’s characters experience the collision of cultures and the spiritual aftermath of war on the most visceral level. Grass Roof, Tin Roof is a work of profundity and empathy, powerful emotion and rare insight.
Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin (Jan 2003)
Paperback: 240 pages