Mục Lục

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 destiny.

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.


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