Author Bich Minh Nguyen's 2007 memoir, Stealing Buddha's Dinner, detailed her life as a Vietnamese immigrant. In her debut novel, Short Girls, Nguyen follows a pair of sisters in their vexing search for careers, soul mates, belonging.
MC: How do the sisters, Van and Linny, wrestle with being second-generation immigrants?
BMN: They don't really know how Vietnamese they arethey're Americans, born here, but they're Vietnamese, too. So they struggle to figure it out. And because they look Asian, they're subject to stereotypes, like when Linny is assumed to be the manicure girl in a salon.
MC: Has that ever happened to you?
BMN: If I go to the tailor to get my pants hemmed, often someone will come in and ask me a question, thinking I am the seamstress.
MC: Why are their career choices so labored?
BMN: Vietnamese-American parents push fields such as dentistry. Linny and Van avoid that, as if it will allow them independence. But there's a downside: feelings of guilt and shame, the sense of not meeting a familial obligation.
MC: You're only 5 feet tallthus the title?
BMN: I grew up in Grand Rapids, MI. People there are descended from tall Dutch immigrants, so I felt even shorter. And the comments were endless: "How's the weather down there?"
MC: Have you ever used any short-girl props, like the Mr. Long Arm extension pole?
BMN: No, but I want one badly!