Lan Cao to Speak of Bridging Two Cultures in Lyon Lecture


Lan Cao '83, professor of law and author of the widely praised novel "Monkey Bridge", will return to Mount Holyoke to discuss her debut book as part of the Mary Lyon lecture series.

The fall's first Mary Lyon lecturer will be Lan Cao '83, whose debut novel has been lavished with praise from reviewers and authors alike. "Monkey Bridge" tells the story of Mai Nguyen, a Vietnamese girl who is airlifted out of Saigon in the last days of the war and builds a new life for herself in America. Cao will discuss her novel December 1 at 7:30 pm in a lecture titled "Monkey Bridge: The Bridge to America."

The book is an intense exploration of cultural difference and identity, of the universal process of growing up, of the mother-daughter bond, and of the Vietnam War from the Vietnamese perspective. It is the first novel by a Vietnamese-American about the war experience and its aftermath. Cao is also coauthor of "Everything You Need to Know about Asian American History".

Like her novel's heroine, Cao is a refugee who came to America from Vietnam just before the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Saigon in the 1970s. The book shows the Vietnamese immigrant community in Virginia's "Little Saigon," where Cao grew up, and describes immigrants' strategies for survival in a strange land and how they come to terms with the need to honor their past while integrating themselves into American life.

The book, published by Viking, was hailed by Publisher's Weekly for "weaving modern Vietnamese history, cultural traditions, and folk tales into a semiautobiographical story of immigrant experience." The "deeply felt novel marks a strong new voice in Asian-American fiction." Author Isabel Allende noted, "In this extraordinary book, Lan Cao gives us a new perspective on Vietnam ... connecting on one level the opposite realities of Vietnam and North America, and on a deeper level the realities of the material world and the world of the spirits."

A politics major at Mount Holyoke, Cao went to Yale Law School and is now a professor of international law at Brooklyn Law School. She also continues to write, currently working on a love story set in China and New York's Chinatown.