The narrator confesses to the Commandant that the crapulent major’s death troubles him. Worse, no longer in Saigon, he can’t engage in his weekly meetings with Man at the basilica and discuss his feelings. So, when the narrator receives an invitation to a wedding at a Chinese restaurant in Westminster, Orange County, he’s eager to go and take his mind off of things. He takes Sofia Mori as his guest. The bride’s father is a legendary marine colonel who fought off the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) during the Battle of Hue. The groom’s father is the vice president of the Saigon branch of Bank of America. The narrator gets an invitation because he had met with the man several times in Saigon when he was the General’s aide. The narrator’s social status, however, is indicated by how far away he sits from the stage where the bride and groom will marry—that is, very far away, near the restrooms. He spots Sonny “at a table several rings closer to the center of power.”
The narrator’s visits to Man served as a form of confession. No longer a Catholic, he confesses instead to Man, his blood brother and also his fellow Communist comrade. The narrator seeks to redeem himself for the major’s death while writing his confession. Before his capture, he coped with his guilty conscience by looking for distractions. A wedding is a perfect distraction because it signifies the union of two people in love and the future promise of children, both of which are the opposite of death.
The narrator thinks that he sees the severed head of the crapulent major serving as the table’s centerpiece. To distract himself, he drinks and explains the customs of his people to Sofia. He then takes her to the dance floor. From there, he sees Lana, who is one of the two female singers taking turns at the microphone with the wedding singer. The narrator hasn’t seen her since she was a schoolgirl, and she bears no relation to the girl he remembers. The other female singer is an “angel of tradition,” wearing a chartreuse ao dai and long, straight hair, singing ballads about “lovelorn women” longing for “distant soldier lovers” and Saigon. Lana, on the other hand, wears a black leather miniskirt and a gold silk halter top. She sings the blues and rock numbers that bands in Vietnam mastered to entertain American troops, such as “Proud Mary” and “Twist and Shout.”
The narrator believes that he sees the ghost of the major. This is one of several instances in the novel in which the narrator will envision the ghosts of those whom he has killed, manifestations of his guilty conscience. In Vietnamese literature, ghosts commonly figure as reminders of the fact that history is always present. Meanwhile, Lana represents a break with traditional femininity. The other singer serves as her foil, though the other woman also represents the General and Madame’s expectations for what Lana should become—demure and modest.
The narrator looks toward the General and Madame’s table. Madame, who usually enjoys doing the twist, remains seated with her husband. They both look as though they’ve been sucking on sour fruit. Meanwhile, Lana rotates her hips, riveting the attention of the men in the crowd. The narrator and Ms. Mori dance. When the song is over, the bank vice president takes the stage and introduces the Congressman. The politician delivers a rousing speech about how the refugees represent the promise of the American Dream. The crowd cheers and applauds. The groom’s father signals for the band to begin playing the music to the Vietnamese national anthem. Everyone sings with zeal, including the narrator. Only “the stoic Chinese waiters” remain silent, using the moment to rest from their work.
The General and Madame are ashamed and embarrassed by their daughter, but they refrain from saying or doing anything, given that she was hired as the wedding entertainment. The Congressman’s speech is met with cheers because it’s a legitimization of the refugees’ presence in the U.S. by someone in a position of authority. Though they represent the American Dream, the groom’s father chooses to hear the Vietnamese national anthem, which represents the retention of their own culture and traditions, despite living on new soil.
The narrator turns around to find Sonny talking to Sofia. He writes down her quips and they talk about how impressed Asians are when a white person knows a few words of one of their languages, while Asians have to speak perfect English to avoid being made fun of and are still regarded as foreigners. The narrator mentions how, if Asians speak perfect English, it makes it easier for Americans to trust them. Sonny asks him what he thinks of the Congressman. The narrator says that the politician is the best thing that could’ve happened to the community. He regards his own statement as “the best kind of truth,” for it means “at least two things.”
Sofia’s comments are in response to the Congressman’s speech, in which he says a few words in Vietnamese. She resents the double-standard in which Asians have to prove the legitimacy of their American identity. The narrator’s comment suggests that the Congressman is good for the community because he’ll aid with the integration of the South Vietnamese, but his conservative politics fail to appeal to the current American climate, which is good for the Communists.
The next weekend, the narrator chauffeurs the General and Madame from Hollywood to Huntington Beach, where the Congressman lives. He has invited them to lunch. During the hour-long drive, they talk mostly about the Congressman. When the narrator asks about Lana, Madame’s face darkens “with barely repressed fury.” She declares her daughter “insane” and says that she looks like “a slut.” She wonders what decent man would marry “that.” She asks if the narrator would marry her, and he confesses that he wouldn’t. Privately, he is thinking that marriage wasn’t the first thing on his mind when he saw her onstage, performing at the wedding. Madame decries the corruption in the United States. They were able to contain it at home in bars, nightclubs, and on bases, but in their new country, it’s everywhere.
Madame’s fury arises from her sense that her daughter disregards all of the expectations for traditional femininity that she raised Lana to follow. She worries that Lana’s sexually suggestive behavior onstage will ruin her chances of marriage, assuming that her daughter wants to marry. Madame’s traditional, conservative view of femininity differs from Lana, who has embraced Western modes of identity, which allow her more personal freedom. Madame views such freedom as personal corruption. The division between them is also generational.
At lunch, the conversation turns back to Lana. Rita, the Congressman’s wife, sympathizes. She has strict rules for her own children. The Congressman mentions that one of his legislative priorities is regulating music and movies to better control what their children read, listen to, and watch. He’s friendly with some Hollywood people, and one of them has given him a script about the Vietnam War. The Congressman has agreed to give the filmmaker notes about what he gets right and wrong in the story, which is about the CIA’s Phoenix Program. The Congressman recalls that the General is an expert on the program, though the General says that he left before it began. The Congressman recommends the narrator, instead, as a consultant. The film is called The Hamlet.
Rita and the Congressman agree with the General and Madame’s embrace of traditional, conservative values, despite being out of step with the more liberal climate of 1970s California. However, the Congressman’s knowledge about the war is useful, though his perspective is biased against the Communists. The Phoenix Program was a CIA-sponsored initiative to target Communist operatives in villages throughout Vietnam. Their American advisers frequently carried out torture and assassinations.