Inside Out and Back Again

by

Thanhhà Lai

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Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harper edition of Inside Out and Back Again published in 2011.
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Part 1: Saigon Quotes

They’re heading to Vūng Tau,
he says,
where the rich go
to flee Vietnam
on cruise ships.

I’m glad we’ve become poor
so we can stay.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Brother Khôi (speaker), TiTi
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

Mother says
if the price of eggs
were not the price of rice,
and the price of rice
were not the price of gasoline,
and the price of gasoline
were not the price of gold,
then of course
Brother Khôi
could continue hatching eggs.

She’s sorry.

Related Characters: Mother (speaker), Brother Khôi, Kim Hà
Page Number: 16-17
Explanation and Analysis:

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:

Like magic a crepe forms
to be filled with shrimp
and eaten with
cucumber and bean sprouts.

It tastes even better
than it looks.
While my mouth is full,
the noises of the market
silence themselves,
letting me and my bánh cuon
float.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Mother
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

Five papayas
the sizes of
my head,
a knee,
two elbows,
and a thumb
cling to the trunk.

Still green
but promising.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Mother, Uncle Son
Related Symbols: Papaya
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

I am proud
of my ability
to save
until I see
tears
in Mother’s
deep eyes.

You deserve to grow up
where you don’t worry about
saving half a bite
of sweet potato.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Mother (speaker)
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

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 2: At Sea Quotes

The first hot bite
of freshly cooked rice,
plump and nutty,
makes me imagine
the taste of ripe papaya
although one has nothing
to do with the other.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker)
Related Symbols: Papaya
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

Brother Khôi nods
and I smile,
but I regret
not having my doll
as soon as the white bundle
sinks into the sea.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Brother Khôi
Related Symbols: Dolls
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

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:

Then by chance Mother learns
sponsors prefer those
whose applications say “Christians.”

Just like that
Mother amends our faith,
saying all beliefs
are pretty much the same.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Mother, The Cowboy, The Cowboy’s Wife
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3: Alabama Quotes

I bite down on a thigh;
might as well bite down on
bread soaked in water.

Still,
I force yum-yum sounds.

I hope to ride
the horse our cowboy
surely has.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), The Cowboy
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

No, Mr. Johnston
doesn’t have a horse,
nor has he ever ridden one.

What kind of a cowboy is he?

To make it worse,
the cowboy explains
horses here go
neigh, neigh, neigh,
not hee, hee, hee.

No they don’t.

Where am I?

Related Characters: Brother Quang (speaker), Kim Hà (speaker), The Cowboy
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:

I tap my own chest:
.

She must have heard
ha,
as in funny ha-ha-ha.

She fakes a laugh.

I repeat, ,
and wish I knew
enough English
to tell her
to listen for
the diacritical mark,
this one directing
the tone
downward.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), MiSSS SScott
Page Number: 140-41
Explanation and Analysis:

On one side
of the bright, noisy room,
light skin.
Other side,
dark skin.

Both laughing, chewing,
as if it never occurred
to them
someone medium
would show up.

I don’t know where to sit
any more than
I know how to eat
the pink sausage
snuggled inside bread
shaped like a corncob,
smeared with sauces
yellow and red.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker)
Page Number: 143-44
Explanation and Analysis:

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’m furious,
unable to explain
I already learned
fractions
and how to purify
river water.

So this is
what dumb
feels like.

I hate, hate, hate it.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), MiSSS SScott
Page Number: 157
Explanation and Analysis:

She makes me learn rules
I’ve never noticed,
like a, an, and the,
which act as little megaphones
to tell the world
whose English
is still secondhand.

[…]

A, an, and the
do not exist in Vietnamese
and we understand
each other just fine.

I pout,
but MiSSS WaSShington says
every language has annoyances and illogical rules,
as well as sensible beauty.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), MiSSSisss WaSShington
Page Number: 166-67
Explanation and Analysis:

I try
but can’t fall asleep,
needing amethyst-ring twirls
and her lavender scent.

I’m not as good as Mother
at making do.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Mother
Related Symbols: The Amethyst Ring
Page Number: 174
Explanation and Analysis:

Things will get better,
just you wait.

I don’t believe her
but it feels good
that someone knows.

Related Characters: MiSSSisss WaSShington (speaker), Kim Hà (speaker), MiSSS SScott
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

No one would believe me
but at times
I would choose
wartime in Saigon
over
peacetime in Alabama.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), MiSSS SScott
Page Number: 194-95
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:

Yet
on the dining table
on a plate
sit strips of papaya
gooey and damp,
having been soaked in hot water.

The sugar has melted off
leaving
plump
moist
chewy
bites.

Hummm…

Not the same,
but not bad
at all.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Mother, MiSSSisss WaSShington
Related Symbols: Papaya
Page Number: 234
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 4: From Now On Quotes

I tell her
a much worse embarrassment
is not having
a gift for Pem.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Mother, Pem/Pam, TiTi
Related Symbols: Dolls
Page Number: 246
Explanation and Analysis:

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:

This Tet
there’s no I Ching Teller of Fate,
so Mother predicts our year.

Our lives
will twist and twist,
intermingling the old and new
until it doesn’t matter
which is which.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Mother
Page Number: 257
Explanation and Analysis:
No matches.