Inside Out and Back Again

by

Thanhhà Lai

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Brother Vū/Vu Lee Character Analysis

Eighteen-year-old Brother Vū is ’s second-oldest brother. He’s tall, muscular, and adores Bruce Lee, so he studies martial arts and often impresses girls by karate-chopping wood or bricks in half. Hà finds Brother Vū (and their other brothers) annoying—particularly when, in Alabama, he begins insisting that everyone call him Vu Lee. However, Hà is also envious of Brother Vū, as he seems shockingly unbothered when he experiences racist bullying at school in Alabama. She begs him to teach her to fly-kick so she can fight back against her bullies, but instead, he offers to teach her—and eventually, many kids and adults in the neighborhood—defense, for reasons that he refuses to explain. He also rescues Hà from Pink Boy’s bullying, and around this time, Hà learns why he refused to teach her to fight: it doesn’t feel good to hurt others. Aside from martial arts, Brother Vū’s other love is cooking. He works as a cook at the refugee camp in Guam and then gets an after-school job flipping burgers in Alabama. At the end of the novel, he defies Mother and insists on going to San Francisco to study at a cooking school.

Brother Vū/Vu Lee Quotes in Inside Out and Back Again

The Inside Out and Back Again quotes below are all either spoken by Brother Vū/Vu Lee or refer to Brother Vū/Vu Lee. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
).
Part 1: Saigon Quotes

Mother says yellow papaya
tastes lovely
dipped in chili salt.
You children should eat
fresh fruit
while you can.

Brother Vū chops;
the head falls;
a silver blade slices.

Black seeds spill
like clusters of eyes,
wet and crying.

Related Characters: Mother (speaker), Kim Hà (speaker), Brother Vū/Vu Lee
Related Symbols: Papaya
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3: Alabama Quotes

I shout, I’m so mad.
I shouldn’t have to run away.

Tears come.

Brother Vū
has always been afraid
of my tears.
I’ll teach you defense.

How will that help me?

He smiles huge,
so certain of himself.
You’ll see.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Brother Vū/Vu Lee (speaker), Pink Boy
Page Number: 152-53
Explanation and Analysis:

I thought I would love
seeing him in pain.

But
he looks
more defeated than weak,
more helpless than scared,
like a caged puppy.

He’s getting up.

If I were to kick him,
it must be
now.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Pink Boy, Brother Vū/Vu Lee
Page Number: 225-27
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Inside Out and Back Again LitChart as a printable PDF.
Inside Out and Back Again PDF

Brother Vū/Vu Lee Character Timeline in Inside Out and Back Again

The timeline below shows where the character Brother Vū/Vu Lee appears in Inside Out and Back Again. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: Saigon
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
...was red and fat like a hippopotamus—so he calls her Hà Mā, or “River Horse.” Brother Vū startles Hà every time he shouts, “Hà, Ya” and breaks wood to imitate Bruce Lee.... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
...tall as Hà. Brother Khôi, who’s 14 and taller than Hà, spotted its first flower. Brother Vū was the first to notice a fist-sized baby papaya on the trunk. He’s 18 and... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
...country, and Brother Khôi asks what will happen if Father comes back and they’re gone. Brother Vū says they have to go, but Hà knows he just wants to go to where... (full context)
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
...Quang’s report cards, and blooming bougainvillea and jasmine vines. They leave behind the cowboy belt Brother Vū sewed when he still liked Johnny Cash more than Bruce Lee. Brother Khôi leaves behind... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
Wet and Crying. Hà’s biggest papaya is light yellow flecked with green. Brother Vū wants to cut it down so the Communists can’t eat it, and Mother says yellow... (full context)
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
...elbows out to protect his kids, but Hà’s family “sticks together / like wet pages.” Brother Vū guides Mother in front of him, lifts Hà onto his shoulders, and then presses Brother... (full context)
Part 2: At Sea
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
...shameful to abandon their country and go where they’ll be the lowest members of society. Brother Vū ’s afternoon lessons are better, because he walks kids through kicks and punches. Brother Khôi... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
...smell enough in this heat, and they don’t want to also smell something rotten. Finally, Brother Vū forces Brother Khôi’s hand open. In Brother Khôi’s hand is the flat chick, its neck... (full context)
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
...before Hà and her family arrived. They all live in tents and sleep on cots. Brother Vū quickly becomes head chef and heats up canned beef and potatoes, which tastes like salty... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
...Wayne, most people go swimming instead. Girls flock to watch Disney cartoons, and they surround Brother Vū as well. Hà listens to the girls beg Brother Vū to break more wood as... (full context)
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
...fish sauce to Guam deserves a kiss. The fish sauce, nuoc mam, makes everything edible. Brother Vū puts it on the beef and potatoes and the food lines snake all the way... (full context)
Part 3: Alabama
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
...draws back, and the cowboy bites into a leg and smiles. Hà, Brother Quang, and Brother Vū try pieces. The skin is crunchy, salty, and spicy—but Mother spits her piece out, and... (full context)
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
...will repair cars. Everyone else will go to school and repeat their last unfinished grade. Brother Vū is upset; he wants to be a cook or teach martial arts, not repeat his... (full context)
Family and Grief Theme Icon
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
...down his shirt and showers. His nails are still edged in black oil by dinnertime. Brother Vū , though, comes home whistling, and he eats four pork chops at dinner. Hà only... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
Fly Kick. Hà sneaks into her brothers’ room and shakes Brother Vū awake. Outside, she tells him that kids pulled her arm hair, threw rocks, and threatened... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
Hà asks Brother Vū why he was whistling earlier. Brother Vū explains that someone called him “Ching Chong” today.... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
Hiding. These days, Brother Vū makes everyone call him Vu Lee. Hà has to say it without giggling in order... (full context)
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
...front window, Brother Quang refuses to translate the note. The cowboy calls the police as Vu Lee “pops” his muscles. The police say to stay inside, but the cowboy says “Hogwash” in... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
...next to him slams her door. As more people don’t open their doors, Brother Quang, Vu Lee , and Brother Khôi’s faces turn red. But when the cowboy leads them to the... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
...to bring gifts. Mother loved the live catfish the best, and it tasted wonderful when Vu Lee cooked it. Now, since Hà and her family were dipped at church, the cowboy brings... (full context)
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
The Busy One. These days, Vu Lee can’t dedicate his time only to Hà. In the mornings he delivers newspapers, and in... (full context)
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
...up and stops. When the rider takes his helmet off, it turns out to be Vu Lee . Pink Boy hurries away just as Brother Khôi runs up pushing his bike, which... (full context)
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
The Vu Lee Effect. Now, Vu Lee always picks Hà up after school. This means that people always... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
...Christmas gifts anyway. The cowboy gives Mother catfish, Brother Quang money to attend night college, Vu Lee jerky, Brother Khoi two fighting fish, and Hà a new coat. MiSSSisss WaSShington gives a... (full context)
Part 4: From Now On
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
...Cambodia. Perhaps he’s building an army and will go back in time to change history. Vu Lee , on the other hand, wonders if Father might have escaped to France and has... (full context)
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
...Lawyer. Now, Brother Quang is in night school to study engineering, which makes Mother smile. Vu Lee is refusing to go to real colleges. He’s going to go to cooking school in... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
...waits for the gong to sound. Hà prays for Father and for Mother, Brother Quang, Vu Lee , and Brother Khôi to be happy and successful. When she opens her eyes, the... (full context)