Fishing for Tigers

Emily Maguire’s new book Fishing for Tigers made me think, and feel, so much. About living in Hanoi (12 years and counting) and about being an expat. About love, and lust, and being broken, and putting together the pieces. About whether expatriates here are really as much in need of Hanoi as the characters in her book. And, if so, what does that mean, and where does it leave us? About being young, and getting old. About age differences, and trajectories, and who is fucking whom. And about my hometown of Sydney—“cool, spacious and clean”—with its vast and sterile shopping malls, neat and quiet parks and wide, empty footpaths.

Fishing for Tigers book cover

I read it partly in Sydney, and north of there, staying on the coast. And on the ‘plane back. And then, mostly, in Hanoi, in the lovely autumn weather. In small cafes and in my cool, spacious and clean Hanoi apartment. As I read, I remembered sitting with the author a couple of times in Hanoi, over coffee or something stronger, while she was editing the book. I’m unconnected enough to the world of writers to still feel excitement in those flashes of presumed insight, the moments of “I know where that sentence came from. Well, maybe”.

The writing is strong, walking the line between insight-born-of-experience-plus-research and occasional-probably-necessary-cliché, bearing in mind that the intended primary readership does not live in Hanoi. And there are some awesome moments, like this description of a one-night stand when the main character is back in Sydney:

“I went back to his house and we had sex and afterwards I felt my face morph into the same smile I’d had after ordering an omelette and being served a duck foetus at a rural street-food stall. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I was thankful that my blundering attempts at communication had resulted in any food at all.”

Sitting with friends on the pavement on the inevitable small blue plastic stools over glasses of bia tuoi with ice or around a thit bo nuong flame for a meal enhanced with good wine in proper glasses (our latest expat affectation), I found myself talking about this book. Wanting friends here to read it. And occasionally wondering aloud to myself if it was the reason for my feeling more ‘expat’ than usual: frustration at the traffic, and reactions to being misunderstood.

I’m about to set my copy free in Hanoi.

This is a reflection, not a review. So I’m not going to pull out the money quotes, or try to pin down the main themes. You can read the back cover blurb here. I’m just going to offer my opinion that Emily Maguire has clearly done the hard emotional and analytical work of being a writer, first and foremost, and also of being an expat, however temporary, and a self-confessed Hanoi obsessive.

So enough gushing. Get your hands on a copy and read it!

~ by hanoi ink on October 18, 2012.

7 Responses to “Fishing for Tigers”

  1. Been avoiding it mostly because I spend half my life hiding from expats. Which doesn’t make a lot of sense from someone who writes a blog and whose wife runs an expat cafe. I’m always fearful that expat novels will be pitched somewhere between expat whining, NGO cliches and volunteer group hugs. But you’ve made it sound more than that so I’m sold. If I’m honest I mostly I dislike expat novels because I haven’t got the talent/skills/dedication to write one myself.

    • It makes complete sense. It is the reason I’ve never lived in West Lake (and therefore spend half my Hanoi life traveling to and from the place).

  2. Ha…totally understand the Westlake thing. I want to live in Westlake and yes, I want there to be expat food and restaurants, I just want to be the only expat.

  3. FINALLY WordPress opens for me. Good stuff above — seems like some nails have been hit on the head. Liked the line: ” You haven’t learnt the language, you don’t have Vietnamese friends. You treat your neighbours like they’re extras in the movie of your reinvention. You say you love it, but you’re not even really in it.”

    I normally read about novels set in Hanoi and recommend them to my mother and never go near them as I always think they’re not going to cut the mustard for an old cynic, long-term Hanoi-based “emigre” in terms of characterisation, details, etc (not out of envy, honest). But will definitely check this out.

    And btw Aaron, Hugh Nolan and I were drinking fine Antipodean wine at street side duck restaurants in Truc Bach like….. yeeeeeeeeaaaars ago (read: after doi moi and before pho cuon existed).

    • That line is amazing, non?

      In my defence(?), I suspect I mentioned the wine glasses trên vỉa hè thing in order to take full ownership at least momentarily of my expat status. A new resolution? Perhaps, although mostly I’m happy to appropriate your ‘émigré’ dodge.

  4. Thanks for this sharing. Just wonder how did you get hold of this book? Do you think it is available at Dinh Le bookshops? Tks!

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