Inside Out and Back Again

by

Thanhhà Lai

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, Brother Quang, Brother Vū, and Brother Khôi’s father never appears in person in the novel, as he’s been missing in action for the last nine years. He was a member of the South Vietnamese navy and was abducted one day while on a mission; nobody knows where he is, or if he’s even alive. All Mother has of him is a portrait taken on Tet the year he disappeared, though she misses him so much that she can barely stand to look at it. Since Hà was only a baby when he disappeared, she tries to learn about Father from her brothers and from Mother, when Mother can be convinced to talk about him. Father loved stewed eels and his children more than anything—according to Brother Quang, he’d cry just watching them sleep. Father was a tall, thin, and serious man, though some of Brother Quang’s stories suggest that he loved to make Mother laugh. He and Mother were also very close and had known each other their whole lives, as they were promised to each other as five-year-olds and got married at age 16. Mother clings to the amethyst ring that Father brought her back from the U.S. as a symbol of their love and connection. When Mother learns that Father isn’t trapped in the North and loses her amethyst ring soon after, she decides these as signs that Father is dead. So, she and her children chant for his safe passage to the afterlife and let him go, which gives the family closure.

Father Quotes in Inside Out and Back Again

The Inside Out and Back Again quotes below are all either spoken by Father or refer to Father. 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

Sometimes I whisper
tuyet sút to myself
to pretend
I know him.

I would never say tuyet sút
in front of Mother.
None of us would want
to make her sadder
than she already is.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Mother, Father
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: At Sea Quotes

I have never seen her
without this purple rock.
I can’t fall asleep
unless I twist the ring
and count circles.

Brother Quang says,
NO!
What’s the point of
new shirts and sandals
if you lose the last
tangible remnant of love?

I don’t understand
what he said
but I agree.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Brother Quang (speaker), Mother, Father
Related Symbols: The Amethyst Ring
Page Number: 103-04
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 4: From Now On Quotes

chanting.

The chant is long,
the voice
low and sure.

Finally
she appears,
looks at each of us.

Your father is
truly gone.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Mother (speaker), Father
Related Symbols: The Amethyst Ring
Page Number: 250
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Inside Out and Back Again LitChart as a printable PDF.
Inside Out and Back Again PDF

Father Character Timeline in Inside Out and Back Again

The timeline below shows where the character Father 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
...their feet. Mother always tell Hà to ignore her brothers and remember that she and Father named Hà after the Golden River. Hà’s parents have no idea how much Hà’s brothers... (full context)
Family and Grief Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
Missing in Action. Hà explains that nine years ago on this day, March 10, Father left on a navy mission. He was captured, and that’s all the family knows. Today,... (full context)
Family and Grief Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
Unknown Father. All Hà knows about Father comes from the little things that Mother occasionally slips into... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
...Apparently, the pilot has been a Communist spy for years. Hà doesn’t understand—the Communists captured Father, so why would a pilot work with them? Brother Quang flaunts how smart he’s become... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
...duties as a girl were to look pretty and write poetry. She was promised to Father when she was five, and they married at age 16. Everything changed when people learned... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
The country split in half, and Mother and Father came south to escape Communism. Mother’s father was supposed to follow them, as soon as... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
...stop encouraging Hà to be calm. Hà wishes she had a sister, and she wishes Father would come home. Mostly, though, Hà wishes Father would come home so that Mother could... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Bridge to the Sea. Father’s best friend, Uncle Son, visits Hà’s family. He’s short and always smiles, unlike Father, who... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
...anyone, or everyone in Saigon will storm the port. Hà explains that Uncle Son and Father were in the same graduating navy class, and it’s just luck that Uncle Son wasn’t... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
...of five bags, Brother Khôi tells her to just make three. At this, Mother grabs Father’s portrait off a shelf and says either they all stay or they all go—it’s up... (full context)
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
Left Behind. Mother leaves behind a set of 10 gold-rimmed glasses Father brought back from America, Brother Quang’s report cards, and blooming bougainvillea and jasmine vines. They... (full context)
Part 2: At Sea
Family and Grief Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
...night, Mother points to the moon and observes that it hasn’t changed. She suggests that Father could be looking at the same moon. He might already know that they’ll wait for... (full context)
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
...fancy navy uniform, and Hà realizes why she likes him: in uniform, he looks like Father. The commander boards the other ship and greets a man with fiery red hair. Hà... (full context)
Family and Grief Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
Amethyst Ring. Mother wants to sell the amethyst ring that Father brought her from America, where he trained in the navy, and buy needles, thread, and... (full context)
Part 3: Alabama
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
...think, or hope for anything else until they master English. They can’t even think of Father. Hà knows she doesn’t mean it. (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
Letter Home. Now that they have an address, Mother writes to Father’s brother in the North—he lives in the ancestral home. This is the first time Mother... (full context)
Family and Grief Theme Icon
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
...could speak, and that she could learn English without all the rules. She also wishes Father would show up in her class, speaking his beautiful English, French, and Chinese. But mostly,... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
...they should keep hoping. She thinks Hà is asleep. Mother keeps sniffling quietly and tells Father to come home and see their children. Hà has spent her whole life wondering what... (full context)
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
...will write that October 14 is her “Most Relieved Day.” She was saving that for Father’s return, but the day he returns can be her “Life’s Best Day.” (full context)
Part 4: From Now On
Family and Grief Theme Icon
...sent her letter to the North four months ago. Today, Mother receives a reply from Father’s brother, but it doesn’t offer any new information. He writes that he went south to... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
What If. Brother Quang wonders if Father escaped to Cambodia. Perhaps he’s building an army and will go back in time to... (full context)
Family and Grief Theme Icon
A Sign. Mother keeps quiet about Father, but she chants every night. Hà knows Mother is waiting for a sign, and she... (full context)
Family and Grief Theme Icon
...her voice is “low and sure.” When Mother is finished, she appears and says that Father is gone. (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
...all face the altar and hold lit incense sticks. As they pray, the portrait of Father as a young man stares back. He’ll never get any older, and this thought makes... (full context)
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
Start Over. Hà is trying to explain Father’s ceremony to MiSSSisss WaSShington, but it’s hard to get all the nouns, verbs, and tenses... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
Mother also sets up a permanent altar on a tall bookshelf and displays Father’s portrait. Hà can’t look at it. She holds her incense stick and waits for the... (full context)