Mimi And Her Mirror
Author: Uyen Nicole Duong
Uyen Nicole Duong or
Duong Nhu Nguyen was born in Hoi An Quang Nam, brought up in Hue and Saigon.
She received her B.S. in Journalism/ Communication from Southern Illinois
University, J.D. from University of Houston (Texas), and the advanced LLM
degree from Harvard Law School. She is believed to be the first Vietnamese
Municipal Judge in the United States (Serving in Texas: Associate Municipal
Judge, City of Houston, and Magistrate for State of Texas; honoured by the
American Bar Association at "Minority Women in the Judiciary" conference --
NYC, 1992). She has been a journalist, public education administrator,
attorney, law professor, writer, and a self-taught painter whose work
focuses on l’Art Brut. She resides in Houston, Texas.
Book reviewed by Ho Dang Thuan
I started reading "Mimi and Her Mirror" from its very
first page: the painting or photograph on the book's cover. It depicts a
little girl running from a chaotic, blazing background over which roaring
copters are hovering...Even though the girl's face cannot be seen, one may
imagine that she runs screaming out of fear and pain... toward... the
darkness of the night. The whole cinematic scenery, netted in a myriad of
tiny, mossy green threads (does memory have a color?), is witnessed thru the
sorrowful eyes of a woman from a far, dark corner. Touched by the painting
or photograph, I opened the book in search for the little girl. And her
Of life-in-exile: Vietnam , April 1975.
Mimi was barely 16, reaching the most splendid age of a girl's life, with
full of beautiful dreams of love and future. A super-performing high school
student herself, she was seen as a shining representative for the country's
outstanding boys and girls of her age who nurtured the same dreams and
hopes. The hope was humble. Their country would be at peace. The dreams were
grandiose. They would study abroad, learn all the know-hows of the world,
and would return to rebuild their homeland.
Unfortunately, like the broken moon
under the wavy water, all those beautiful dreams and hopes were brutally
crushed to pieces by the fall of Saigon in April 1975. Even worse, during
the last days of Saigon, something terrible happened to the pure, virtuous
Mimi herself, once believed by her aristocratic grandmother (a Hue royal
descendant) to be predestined to become the first lady of the country.
Those absurd miserable and shocking losses have subsequently inflicted
perpetual psychological traumas upon most if not all, Vietnamese expatriates
-- support characters such as Simone, Crazy Man,..., but especially upon our
tragic hero Mimi, the protagonist. It was such extremely painful trauma --
the accidental casualty of the end of a war -- that has turned Mimi's sweet
dreams, as it should have been for any normal girl of her age, into insomnia
and nightmares ever since.
The facts in her later life-in-exile --
that a determined and intelligent Mimi has graduated Summa Cum Laude from
Harvard Law School, followed by her outstanding career as a top-notch law
professional at different blue-chip law firms -- have not helped in her
quest of happiness. If it was true that the strong inner urge to suppress
the painful past and the super-performing nature have helped drive her to
success, then at those very top places, she always seemed to question the
very meaning of her life. After all, what did material success really mean
when all of her dreams were broken, when there would definitely be no more
"the first lady," and no more a republic for that first lady to serve?
Bewildered by these psychological conflicts, beside the unmet expectation of
righteousness in her real-life practice of law profession, she kept giving
up her top jobs at prestigious law firms in search for something else, and
would only return - to excel again - when "the money was low."
In frustration, she at times referred to
these seemingly aimless activities to Sisyphean tasks where the Greek King
Sysiphus had to push, as a punishment, a heavy rock up a hill only to see it
roll back down. And he had to start all over again.
But why, I must ask, did our Mimi think
of her life after the fall of Saigon as Sysiphus' "punishment"? I ask this
question for generations of Vietnamese immigrants who must give up their
dream to serve a country, and who perhaps may have shared in Mimi's
feelings, in various ways -- that they have been victims of a pre-destined
fate or situations beyond their control?
Of Love: Mimi thought that she might
have fallen in love with two men. One was "the Crazy Man," a Viet PhD
candidate-turned-homeless at a midwestern campus. The other was Brad, a
young, successful American lawyer. In my opinion, her feelings of love
toward either man are in doubt.
Mimi's first impression of the Crazy Man
was his outside resemblance to the man who had saved her during her escape
from Saigon. (How? and from what? I would leave this to readers to find
out). Suffice to reveal that the man helped her reunite with her family,
just in time for an airlift evacuation out of the chaotic country. While the
horrifying experience of what happened to her painfully imprinted on her
subconsciousness, the knightly image of her savior was also taking shape.
Since then, deep appreciation from the depth of her soul had never stopped
crying out for a reunion with her savior to whom she had had no chance to
show her gratefulness.
Also, the fall of Saigon in April 1975
was the most tragic episode for Viet expatriates. Crazy Man and Mimi were
among them. So it's understandable for two persons who shared the same
broken hopes and dreams to be drawn together.
While love sometimes cannot be logically
explained, her satisfied urge for a trusted company, the Crazy Man, who
resembled a subconscious image of Mimi's savior and who shared the same
broken dreams, is not convincing enough for me to call it "true love,"
especially when the man's behavior showed some pathological manifestations.
To me, the image of a homeless man full of ideas and aspirations, who had
given up his dissertation to take then drop odd job(s), who passionately
gave speech and distributed leaflets about a republic that no longer
existed, only to be found later with depression and hopelessness, is somehow
similar to those who suffer from some minor forms of Bipolar Disorder.
As to the young Brad, Mimi might be
confused between sex and love. For almost 20 years, and in her perpetual
effort to escape her painful past, Mimi had courageously driven all of her
energy to excel in everything she touched, both academically and
professionally. Ironically, while this very task had successfully
incapacitated her for love, it also failed to dissipate her libido which
seemed to accumulate over time, quietly but persistently. This tremendous
sexual energy would definitely explode at some point, at some right
conditions, and/or with some activating energy. That some
point/conditions/activating energy eventually came when she reached her
"middle age", in a park, on a beautiful day, with a seem-to-be thoughtful,
nice, clean, good looking guy. The fact that Mimi, a matured woman who had
been raised and had grown up in such Confucian traditions as Vietnam, showed
her sketches to a stranger, exchanged phone numbers, invited him to her home
on the first date, was somewhat unusual, unexpected from an Asian lady. The
whole setup of the candle-light dinner, rose’s petal suggestive eating,
romantic musics... might suggest to readers, Brad included, that a
love-making scene was about to be induced.
A possible explanation to Mimi’s
behavior on her first meeting with Brad is that her compressed libido has
reached its climax, and that the libidinal explosion was so powerful that
effectively blew up most of the woman’s security gates.
If my explanation sounded convincing
enough, then the hot scenes with a good love-making partner that followed
before "the mirror"-or Mimi’s very self-, were understandable. Thanks to her
honesty. The silent dialogue with the “mirror” partly reflected Mimi’s
psychological intricacy. She had been always, even in the utmost top of
sexual pleasure, searching in every corner of her proud-but-injured soul for
a guide, an answer, a protection, a justification, an assurance,
reconciliation... But she always failed. Poorly!
The painful past was so overwhelming, so
unbearable that it subconsciously forced her to build a "citadel" within the
self to contain the pains from flooding out and hurting her again. That
fortress is a "no trespassing zone", the untouchable for strangers! The
love-making scene which made readers believe that Mimi was raping her lover
may be used as a good example to show Mimi's psychological complexity and
the existence of such a zone. Did she really love Brad? Did she trust him
enough to completely expose her soul? She might not have clear answers then.
But her sexually evasive act in an attemp to shut him off - keeping the
stranger at bay to escape his persistent inquiries into her past -- might
confirm the answers. For it is almost impossible to fully understand human
psychology, I still wonder what other means Mimi could have used to stop
her partner’s act of intrusion.
The closing of Mimi's story really told
me all of her destiny. If the book’s cover depicts a girl running away from
a chaotic, unhappy land is full of pain, then the image of Mimi running
bare-footed as she left her prestigious law firm bore no less sufferings.
The girl and the woman in both scenes headed to the same direction: the
darkness of the night. And Mimi was on her way, as she has always been,
starting all over again, the job of a female Sisyphus!
Deep down, I believe, the poor Mimi is
just a lonely, unsecured, and vulnerable soul! And I am afraid that she would
be incapable to find true happiness no matter how hard she tries, how
superbly she performs, unless... she could smartly manage to escape the
haunting ghosts of her painful past. She should also be very clear that
happiness is a journey, not a destination. And, the space-time for happiness
is any single moment of the Now. Nor the Past. Nor the Future.
Because of the psychological complexity
of the book's characters, reading " Mimi and Her Mirror", to me, is a
challenging but interesting job. Flowing along the author's skillful and
creative writing, I see the author as, not only a connoisseur in character
building, but also an expert in human psychology. Honesty and courage are
also seen in this book where the female character, an Asian woman, has
daringly raised her voice to speak out of her libidinal activities that have
long been a taboo for woman. Last but not least, I can see the author as a
thinker whose reference of the protagonist's aimless activities to King
Sisyphus' punishment may pose a serious issue to all human beings: the
absurdity of life.
If this story-telling book was a work of
literary fiction, then its author has beautifully done her job in using this
art form to describe life. I give this book 5-star's.