This essay argues that Aimee Phan’s short story cycle We Should Never Meet (2004) offers a form that makes perceptible the linked trajectories conditioning refugee displacements. Mapping the fallout from the evacuation of children from South Vietnam, this story cycle draws out the relations among the vectors of US power and the mass displacements they produce, as well as the uncertain positions the displaced inhabit in the United States. Phan’s text historicizes the problem of placing these subjects in America as inextricable from the problem of the actions and responsibilities the nation would rather forget. Phan renders the Vietnam War’s transnational network of effects with a “transnarrative” form. This form models the disruptive force of national borders in the narrative borders between stories while challenging readers to develop new principles of connection across narrative and national borders.
Phan’s work demonstrates the innovations of contemporary Vietnamese American fiction. Phan retrofits the story cycle, a genre from literary regionalism that traditionally depicted local communities, and reveals its surprising potential for encompassing the transnational political relations produced by warfare and displacement. Her story cycle also expands the traditional scope of Vietnamese American narrative beyond the genres of personal memoir and family saga to grapple with relations of impact that exceed these scales. It contributes to the urgent effort to rethink political community in the face of vast networks of consequence. We Should Never Meet shows a transnarrative Asian American literature developing to narrate transnational communities of shared fate into being, making them available to aesthetic experience and, potentially, political accountability.
Long Le-Khac (2018): “Narrating the Transnational: Refugee Routes, Communities of Shared Fate, and Transnarrative Form” in MELUS, Volume 43, Issue 2, Summer 2018, Pages 106–128.