Dispatch from Miami: Of Broward Detention Center & Boat People
— By Adri Wong | March 18, 2010
The best story in Nam Le’s eponymous collection The Boat is a harrowing “40 pages of entirely unpostmodern realism about boat people suffering as they try to escape the new Communist state.”
Here in Miami, American immigration authorities have been detaining Haitian refugees who did no more than cram onto planes in order to flee the death and destruction wrought by the recent earthquake. The pregnant and ailing were told to get on board so they could be transported to receive medical care; they woke up in crowded cells shared with hundreds of detainees hailing from all parts of the world. A Babel of a boat.
Many of the other stories in Le’s collection are off-putting; by “neurotically avoiding” the pigeonhole of ethnic writing, he has crafted stories that come off as contrived — at times, even smug. But there is something to Le’s meandering perspective that goes beyond his efforts to produce more than “the Vietnamese thing.” His stories are full of castaways of many colors; refugees from English departments and nation-states, schoolyards and battlefields.
It would be no original thought to remark that there is something cross-cutting and unifying about the experience of diaspora. I wonder, though, if a multinational, multi-perspective artistic convergence around the shared experience of The Boat – or the Detention Center – is in the making: a story of confinement in small spaces of indefinite duration; a meditation on migration collapsed into the passing of time.
Because beneath the surface was either dread or delirium. As more and more bundles were thrown overboard she taught herself not to look — not to think of the bundles as human — she resisted the impulse to identify which families had been depleted. She seized distraction from the immediate things: the weather, the next swallow of water, the ever-forward draw of time.
- Nam Le, “The Boat”