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by Nhat Anh Nguyen ; translated by William Naythons

Pub Date: Oct. 9th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4683-0959-1
Publisher: Overlook

Childhood is a stage of our lives that we can access any time as long as we have a "ticket," or a way of transporting us—at least that’s what Vietnamese writer Anh says in this straightforward and occasionally charming novel.  

Mui, the narrator, is a middle-aged man recounting (and imagining) the freedom and creativity he had when he was 8. The antics and philosophical tidbits he shares center around his group of friends: Hai, Tun and Ti. Mui is ostensibly writing a paper called "Children as a World" that he intends to present at a UNESCO Vietnam workshop. But it’s also made clear that he’s fictionalizing his own life. His friends, now that they're older, visit him to talk about what he’ll include in the book. Mui talks about his childhood in brief vignettes—ranging from a failed attempt to train wild dogs to digging up a yard in order to find buried treasure to trying to change the order of the world and resist the rules adults impose on everything: “We wanted to rename everything in the universe as if we had just created it.” The main thing, it seems, is to challenge the patterns that adults fall into. “Many people are afraid of sadness, but I’m not one of them. I’m only afraid of boredom,” the narrator says. The author is interested in the ways children engage with the world and how they have a “power to imagine the world differently,” but there are more obvious observations than original thinking here.

An incomplete examination of what it’s like to be a kid; a glimpse in the mirror out of the corner of one’s eye instead of a photograph that can be studied over and over again.