"Inside Out and Back Again," Vocabulary from Part 1

April 15, 2014
Fleeing to America to escape the Vietnam War, Hà and her family end up in Alabama, where a strange new culture that they must adapt to awaits them in "Inside Out and Back Again" -- a novel written in verse by Thanhha Lai.

Learn these word lists for the novel: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4
We pretend the monsoon has come early.
The tired worm reproduces much more slowly at the end of the day than at the beginning
Two items on the list of offerings are foods, and two produce pleasant fragrances (a tuberose is a flower, and an incense stick smells nice when burned).
This day Mother prepares an altar to chant for his return, offering fruit, incense, tuberoses, and glutinous rice.
Now I am ten, learning to embroider circular stitches, to calculate fractions into percentages, to nurse my papaya tree to bear many fruits.
But last night I pouted when Mother insisted one of my brothers must rise first this morning to bless our house because only male feet can bring luck.
An old, angry knot expanded in my throat.
This year he predicts our lives will twist inside out.
Brother Vu screams, Ha Ya, and makes me jump every time he breaks wood or bricks in imitation of Bruce Lee.
We named you Kim Ha, after the Golden (Kim) River (Ha), where Father and I once strolled in the evenings.
I vow to rise first every morning to stare at the dew on the green fruit shaped like a lightbulb.
Communism is a theory that favors a classless society where all the people equally own the means of producing goods. But in reality, private ownership is abolished so that everything is owned by the state, and government officials are at the top of the society.
But when we keep talking about how close the Communists have gotten to Saigon, how much prices have gone up since American soldiers left, how many distant bombs were heard the previous night, Miss Xinh finally says no more.
Brother Quang says, One cannot justify war unless each side flaunts its own blind conviction.
Although the line breaks are not shown in the example sentences, keep in mind that the novel is written in short free-verse poems. This can be seen here in the rhythm created by the repetition of words, sounds, and sentence structures.
It’s not easy to persuade Mother to tell of her girlhood in the North, where her grandmother’s land stretched farther than doves could fly, where looking pretty and writing poetry were her only duties.
Wish Mother would stop chiding me to stay calm, which makes it worse.
Mother smells of lavender and warmth
The crepe is a reminder of when the French had an empire that included parts of Southeast Asia. But as seen in the example sentence, the Vietnamese have transformed this food of their former colonizer and made it their own with the addition of ingredients native to their land.
Like magic a crepe forms to be filled with shrimp and eaten with cucumber and bean sprouts.
We stand in line; for even longer we sit on hot metal benches facing the podium.
I will not risk fleeing with my children on a rickety boat.
The definition gives the word a positive tone, but in the example sentence, "slogan" has a tone of fear, since it connects to the Communists who will teach children to repeat ideas and report on their parents.
Ha will come home chanting the slogans of Ho Chi Minh, and Khoi will be rewarded for reporting to his teacher everything we say in the house.
Mother tells me she and Father have a pact.
Who can go against a mother who has become gaunt like bark from raising four children alone?
Into each pack: one pair of pants, one pair of shorts, three pairs of underwear, two shirts, sandals, toothbrush and paste, soap, ten palms of rice grains, three clumps of cooked rice, one choice.
Photographs: every Tet at the zoo, Father in his youth, Mother in her youth, baby pictures, where you can’t tell whose bottom is exposed for all the world to see.
Hordes pour by us, beyond us.
In the dark a nudge here a nudge there and we end up back on the first ship in the same spot with two mats.

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