Vu Tran’s first novel, Dragonfish (Norton, 298 pp., $26.95, hardcover; $15.95, paper; $15.95, Kindle), presents many voices, and every one is interesting. Born in Saigon and raised in Oklahoma, Vu Tran today teaches creative writing at the University of Chicago. He has maintained his Vietnamese heritage despite absorbing Western culture, ethics, and style, particularly regarding crime fiction.
Tran knows noire. He alternates view of cops, crooks, and gamblers in Las Vegas with memories that go back to the days when his characters fled Vietnam following the end of the American war. The drama centers on Robert—an American cop—and his search for Suzy, his Vietnamese wife who left him for Sonny, a Vietnamese tough-guy gambler.
Tran infuses three Vietnamese female characters—a mother, daughter, and a close friend—with enough ambivalence and mystery to more than justify the men’s longing for them. In doing so, he provides a clear picture of refugee life.
At the end of many plot twists, Robert survives physical and psychological battles with Sonny and his henchmen, but pays a heavy toll.
Several times the story’s moods, scenes, and vocabulary flashed me back to the pulp fiction crime magazines I read as a kid. This made Dragonfish an especially enjoyable read.