We Should Never Meet Stories

Aimee Phan




Trade Paperback

256 Pages



Request Desk Copy Request Exam Copy
Winner of the Association for Asian American Studies' Book AwardA Kiriyama Prize Notable Book

The interlinked stories that make up We Should Never Meet alternate between Saigon before the city's fall in 1975 and present-day "Little Saigon" in Southern California—exploring the reverberations of the Vietnam War in a completely new light.

Intersecting the lives of eight characters across three decades and two continents, these stories dramatize the events of Operation Babylift, the U.S.-led evacuation of thousands of Vietnamese orphans to America just weeks before the fall of Saigon. Unwitting reminders of the war, these children were considered bui doi, the dust of life, and faced an uncertain, dangerous existence if left behind in Vietnam.

Four of the stories follow the saga of one orphan's journey from the points-of-view of a teenage mother, a duck farmer, and a Catholic nun from the Mekong Delta, a social worker in Saigon, and a volunteer doctor from America. The other four stories take place twenty years after the evacuation and chronicle the lives of four Vietnamese orphans now living in America: Kim, an embittered Amerasian searching for her unknown mother; Vinh, her gang member ex-boyfriend who preys on Vietnamese families; Mai, an ambitious orphan who faces her emancipation from the American foster-care system; and Huan, an Amerasian adopted by a white family, who returns to Vietnam with his adoptive mother.


Praise for We Should Never Meet

"With almost plainsong dialogue and unornamented description that takes you straight to the troubled hearts of these people . . . Phan [builds] an unsentimental, profoundly persuasive portrait of ordinary people making the best of extraordinary, almost inexpressible tragedy."Elle

"Remarkable . . . The stories are indelible yet float past you . . . Many complicated issues are brought to life here."San Francisco Chronicle

"Phan charts [these] journeys with acuity, sensitivity, [and] wisdom."—Los Angeles Times

"Phan accomplishes what only a true artist can: she gives voice to the voiceless and makes them speak for us all. This is a thrillingly important book."—Robert Olen Butler

"There is nothing more satisfying for readers than having an author take them to a place they think they know, and then showing them how very little they actually do."—The Hartford Courant

"This extraordinary book creates with eloquent dignity an intricate bridge of human stories connecting America and Vietnam."—Lan Samantha Chang, author of Hunger: A Novella and Stories

"With this remarkably original and impressive debut, Phan takes her place among the very best of the new wave of Asian-American authors. Few, if any, rival the literary ambition and thematic scope so evident in We Should Never Meet, which deftly spans generations, continents, and cultures. The lives revealed here are those of perhaps the most neglected victims of the Vietnam War, its orphans—those abandoned by American GIs and those who lost parents. Phan's loving but unflinching look at these displaced lives illuminates the murky heart of a forgotten American tragedy."—David Wong Louie, author of The Barbarians Are Coming

"In We Should Never Meet, Phan accomplishes what only a true artist can: She gives voice to the voiceless and makes them speak for us all. This is a thrillingly important book."—Robert Olen Butler, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

"In gorgeously liquid prose, Aimee Phan gives us deep insight into contemporary Vietnamese-American life. There is a stark eloquence to this book that lingers within me, compelling a reconsideration of what I thought I knew about the war in Vietnam and more important, the war's long-term effects on the people of both countries. We Should Never Meet is an important book by a splendid and passionate new writer."—Chris Offutt, author of No Heroes: A Memoir of Coming Home and Kentucky Straight

"The linked stories that make up this dynamic debut are spare in their approach but profoundly observant. One painful narrative thread follows a mother as she sends her daughter off with Operation Babylift, an initiative launched in Vietnam in the mid-1970s to rescue 2,000 babies from a crumbling Saigon. Another traces the tensions between bookish Mai and hoodlumesque Kim, both Operation Babylift orphans living in L.A., now in their teens. Mai studies very hard, while Kim is a thief and a vicarious member of an Asian gang who inadvertently harms someone she wouldn't have purposefully targeted. These stories read quickly, and yet the deliberateness of their word choice and their emotion make it evident that they've been planned very carefully, down to the last detail. Phan plays up the intrinsic toughness of L.A. and the chaos of present-day and war-era Vietnam to moving effect in this unassuming but hard-edged psychological travelogue, which memorably shows the ways humans bob and weave against ever-present alienation."Booklist

"This graceful, spare debut collection of eight loosely connected short stories follows the lives of four Vietnamese-American orphans, three of them evacuated from Vietnam in the weeks before the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War in an effort called Operation Babylift."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

We Should Never Meet
MISS LIENLIEN WAS FIGHTING THEM again. Clawing at their arms, kicking her feet, pushing them away.Go get the boy. This one is strong.She rolled her head from one side to the other. Her skin was slick, sweat squeezing from every pore in her body, but there were still so many hands holding her down. Lien tried to focus on the ceiling. She knew it was dark cement, she remembered that from several hours earlier, but all she saw were bright blues and purples, growing lighter and lighter.Push. Push now.She tried to do what they said, she knew it would make the pain stop. But they
Read the full excerpt


  • Aimee Phan

  • Aimee Phan was born in 1977 in Orange County, California, and now teaches in creative writing at Washington State University. She received her MFA from the University of Iowa, where she won a Maytag Fellowship.
  • Aimee Phan Julie Thi Underhill



Reading Group Guide