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  1. Book ImageDragonfish: A Novel

    Vu Tran

    “Richly satisfying work. . . . [Has] a place on the top shelf of literary thrillers.” —Gerald Bartell, San Francisco Chronicle

Discussion Questions

  1. Place plays a central role in the novel’s plot. While the “present” action of the novel takes place in Las Vegas, much of the backstory occurs in Vietnam and Malaysia. How would you compare these settings, as they are depicted in the novel? What kinds of communities form in these spaces, and how different or similar are they from one another?
  2. There are a number of striking similarities between Suzy and Mai, both in terms of their physical features and in their personalities and habits. What is the significance of this doubling, and what do you think it means for Mai’s future?
  3. There are two first-person narrators in this novel: Robert and Suzy. What does it mean that the reader has access to so much more of Suzy’s inner thoughts and motivations than Robert? Why is Robert denied this knowledge at the very end, with the destruction of Suzy’s letter and journal?
  4. Mai and Suzy both report the ability to see or sense the spirits of the dead. What is the significance of this kind of “sight”? What might it say about the relationship between the living and the dead, or the past and the present, in this novel?
  5. “I was crying for myself, for everything I had lost, for your father, your ridiculous father, who would never hold me or forgive me anything ever again.” Why is forgiveness something that Suzy routinely desires? What role does forgiveness play in the novel, and what might it say about the way characters relate to each other?
  6. Threats of violence seem to hover over many of the characters in the novel, though many are also instigators of violence. How do you compare Jonathan’s violence with Sonny’s? Do you think they have similar motivations, or are there different explanations for their behavior? How do they compare to Robert’s acts of violence? Suzy’s?
  7. Robert admits to Mai that he knew, as early as his honeymoon, that his marriage to Suzy was doomed. What does it say about Robert that he remained married to her for eight more years? Or that he took great pains to travel to Las Vegas to “save” her from Sonny?
  8. “I’m not a dummy. . . . In Vietnam I speak beautifully,” Suzy says to Robert one day when he laughs at her English. In what ways does Robert misunderstand or mischaracterize the Vietnamese immigrants he comes in contact with throughout the novel?
  9. In Suzy’s letters to Mai, she recounts the episode of a mother launching herself overboard the ship, in despair of her presumably dead son. How does this example of maternal despair contrast with Suzy’s inability to act, while she watches as Mai nearly drowns?
  10. Both Sonny and Robert grew up with alcoholic, irresponsible fathers. How has their complicated relationship with their fathers shaped their own opinions about fatherhood and masculinity?
  11. “Some people you will never know beyond what they give you. To be with them requires a bridge, an interpreter, and even then you’re only ever approaching them as you would the horizon.” What are the barriers between Robert and Suzy that necessitate this kind of mediation? Why does Robert think this kind of “interpretation” is always already unfinished, and what leads him to this realization?
  12. “The boy once asked me what I was writing, and when I told him they were letters, he asked me to whom. I just smiled and said, Someone who will never read them.” What is the significance of writing in this novel? How does it compare to other forms of communication or expression in the novel?

About Vu Tran

Vu Tran, winner of a Whiting Award recognizing “exceptional talent and promise,” teaches creative writing at the University of Chicago.

Books by Vu Tran

  1. Book CoverDragonfish: A Novel

    “Richly satisfying work. . . . [Has] a place on the top shelf of literary thrillers.” —Gerald Bartell, San Francisco ChronicleMore