§ I have no memory of the passage we made or the first home I was born to, no shadows or impressions, nothing whatsoever. Any inklings I may claim to have of this period are made up of witness and iconography and documentary and imagination and bias and hearsay and silence and inference.
§ All those memories I may belong to, do not belong to me.
WE WERE MEANT TO BE A GENTLE PEOPLE
a memoir in text + image + song by Dao Strom
"But rather than reject...fragments as incomplete, Strom embraces the fragment as the smallest reliable unit of truth. The result — a collage of images, memories, and moments — embodies the struggle to shape her own identity. Rather than edit out her confusion, Strom places uncertainty at the center of her project, using photographs, footnotes, formatting, and fonts to recreate contradiction on the page... this forces the reader to contend with the same conflicting voices as the author."
"We Were Meant To Be A Gentle People is a beautiful memoir and a captivating cultural history about the stories we tell and the ways we may or may not survive our histories. It’s a haunting and challenging read that may not offer answers to anyone’s origin story (Strom’s or her readers’). But the best of art—and the most alive of writings—is not about answers so much as it is about witness."
"The work itself is both about boundaries, and working to break down boundaries—whether those boundaries are cultural/geographical (America & Viet Nam); genre (poetry and prose); or even media (image, text, images-of-text, and music, too, with an accompanying CD of songs composed and performed by Strom). To hold all of these things in balance is itself a feat, and Strom pulls it off with apparent ease."
--- VELA Magazine
"A remarkable polyphony of words, sounds, and images, spanning 188 pages of an 8 x 8 art book and 2 CDs (titled East and West), this text is literally much more than a novel. It is a work that reverberates with all the ontological desire of Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida, all the bleary longing of Anne Carson’s Nox, and, just as with these texts, it is an act of raw assemblage, an arrangement of fragments infused with their need to fill some ghostly outline."
--- Entropy Magazine
"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, spoken word artist & poet (Sông I Sing)
"In her stunning multi-media memoir, We Were Meant To Be A Gentle People, Dao Strom travels across oceans and decades in search of ever-elusive answers about her origins. As she leads us through this strangely beautiful excavation, sifting through fragments of memory and received history, the questions she raises about her past unsettle the ways in which we understand our own stories. The very notion of memory becomes more open-ended, mysterious, and compelling when we see such a gifted archeologist of the self at work on the page."
--- Jacob Slichter, author & musician (So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star / Semisonic / PortablePhilosophy.com)
"Dao Strom has crafted a gorgeous memoir with prose, poetry, photos, and music—eclectic, authentic, disarming and utterly heart-wrenching. I could not imagine this narrative in any other way. A brilliant success on every level."
--- Andrew X. Pham, author (Catfish and Mandala, The Eaves of Heaven)
+++ 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. Strom juxtaposes documentary images next to family memorabilia to ruminate on the intersection of personal and collective histories. She travels between the Pacific coast and the Champa ruins of Vietnam to capture original photographic images that re-imagine folk myths. Her autobiographical essays are candid at the same time they are enigmatic, playing with white space and the shapes the text makes on the page.
The book, We Were Meant To Be A Gentle People, is accompanied by a music album, East/West, that explores two “geographies.” The book's "chapters" correspond with the song titles of the music album, and lyrics are interwoven amid the essays and fragments. The result is a multidimensional work that draws disparate “voices” together into one confluent, challenging whole.
Genre: Memoir/Poetry/Hybrid Art
Paperback: 200 pages
Dimensions: 8x8 inches
Publisher: Paperdoll Works/Press Otherwise
Pub Date: 10/20/2015
This title is distributed by Small Press Distribution / SPD.org.
This project received funding from a Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) Project Grant in 2014 & an Oregon Arts Commission Individual Artist Fellowship in 2013, with subsequent funding from an Oregon Arts Commission Career Opportunity Grant in 2016.
About the Author
Dao Strom is the author of Grass Roof, Tin Roof, a novel, and The Gentle Order of Girls and Boys, a collection of novellas. She is also a writer of songs. She lives in Portland, Oregon.