Landbridge: Life in Fragments by Y-Dang Troeung

This is the inaugural title being published by Alchemy, the new division of Knopf. It is the story of a difficult and beautiful life, told, as the title tells us, in fragments, pieces of writing, snippets of a difficult yet beautiful life lived. Y-Dang came to Canada in 1980 as a baby from the tragic war in Cambodia, as part of the last of 60,000 refugees accepted by Canada and Prime Minster Trudeau. Y-Dang was featured on the front page of the Montreal Gazette as a baby in her mother’s arms, staring in wonder at the snow for the first time, and she ponders throughout the novel about how she is supposed to feel having grown up a human-interest piece.

The story takes us through fragments of her life and her family’s life, and the history of the glory and then war in Cambodia, in exquisite prose.  She discusses her parents and grandparents’ treatment in refugee camps in Thailand and Cambodia, prison camps, her missing brother, the sense of loss and the unknown, her son, her son’s health issues, becoming a scholar, the meaning of love, and eventually her own terminal diagnosis. This book tackles a lot of issues, and you must take your time with it.

The book is told through fragments of Cambodian history, her personal stories, heartful letters she is leaving for her son, and black and white visuals. It is a moving history that moves between memoir and non-fiction. It is not an easy read, but it is an important one, one that will surely break your heart, multiple ways, many times.

“I long to write my story in a way that shows the cracks and fissures beneath the refugee’s smile of gratitude. At the same time, I cannot deny that, for the kindness shown to my family, for the opportunities to research and learn and perhaps one day write, I am and continue to be grateful, genuinely grateful. Struck between the smooth surfaces and the burrowed fissures, I am again stuck.” Troeung writes with beautiful clarity over what it means to be a refugee and how it feels to have to be grateful, but also carry trauma and tragedy that the Canadians that “welcomed” you don’t really want to see. She explores some of the more recent refugees to come to Canada, looking at the Syrian refugee crisis, and how much things in the world stay difficult and the same. Troeung writes about Sara Ahmed’s “Happiness Duty” of the migrant and how difficult that was for her to be the story she told, when she lived in poverty and was haunted by those who were left behind.  This is such an important thing to understand and for us “Canadians” to think about. How do we see those who we bring into our country? Are we only seeing what we want to see? This book will open your views and feelings on refugees and hopefully also, your heart.

Laurie Burns is an English as additional language teacher to immigrants, literacy volunteer and voracious reader living in Dartmouth.

Y-DANG TROEUNG was Assistant Professor of English at the University of British Columbia, where she did research and taught in the fields of transnational Asian literatures, critical refugee studies, global south studies, and critical disability studies. Y-Dang passed away in November 2022, after completing the final draft of her extraordinary memoir, Landbridge.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Alchemy by Knopf Canada (Aug. 29 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 312 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1039008763
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1039008762