The role reversal can also be seen in more subtle details and subtextual clues in the novel, however. Much of Mai's narration of events in Vietnam takes place almost through her own mother's perspective, but as told by Mai, such as, "Baba Quan had told my mother once," and "she and my mother had lived" (6). From the very outset of the story, it is made clear that Mai is now responsible for speaking her mother's voice and telling her mother's story. In practical and symbolic ways, the younger immigrant generation is now in charge of Vietnam's history.
Given the level of significance and intrigue that are attached to the story of Thanh's escape and her abandonment of her supposed father Baba Quan in Vietnam throughout the novel, both by Thanh and by Mai, it is definitely with great satisfaction and anticipation that the reader finally encounters the explanation of what actually occurs. While learning that Baba Quan is not actually Thanh's real father, and that in fact she had seen this man -- the only man she had ever known as her father -- murder the man that she learns truly was her father, is not precisely what most readers were likely expecting, the prolonged nature of the set-up to this revelation (i.e. The entire novel) and the rather rushed manner in which this ongoing mystery is eventually resolved actually serves to make this plot revelation far less startling than it might otherwise have been. Though the reader did not know exactly what shocking revelation would come, it was fairly certain that it would be a major blow that forced a reexamination of the entire novel, and this is exactly what the author managed to provide.
Mai's reaction to this revelation, which comes as a far more personal and directly impactful surprise to her than it does to the reader, is largely positive, as it represents a liberation of sorts from the last elements of the past and her own sense of guilt the she bore as having escaped form Vietnam when she did. Knowing the true illusion of her own past made it easier to close this chapter and move more fully onwards. Mai's character is more concerned with future success than with past failures throughout the book, and this revelation makes this more possible.
The American Dream
The concept of the American Dream has been highly prevalent in American literature and immigrant literature for centuries. The idea that anyone can come to the United States and become successful, free, and independent regardless of their past identities and limitations has been enticing to millions, despite its radical failure for many if not most of these. There are definite implications in this checkered past of the American Dream for Mai and Thanh in this story, as both seek to reinvent themselves and their future possibilities in the United States. For Thanh, however, the United States was a refuge from the home she would longingly have returned to, and the part of the American Dream that she finds at once so enticing and yet so ultimately unachievable is the ability to blot out one's past, and to truly become anew person. Other characters exhibit this aspect of the American Dream more explicitly and more successfully, but Thanh would truly have benefited the most form being able to make up a new history for herself as she seemed to so much desire one.
For Mai, it is the ability to become self-direct and successful that is the salient feature of the American Dream. Again, she is looking towards the future while her other is looking towards the past, and this is clearly reflected even in their approaches to the American Dream -- Thanh focuses on what this means as afar as how her past influences her current position, and Mai focuses on the potentials now that they are in America. Like the author herself, Mai is ready to adapt to the structures of this culture and define her own successes.