Lucky Ticket is a collection of short stories. A collection of short stories that all basically revolve around racism, refugees, and displacement. The stories populated by wonderfully developed, Vietnamese characters. Most of the characters fled the victorious communist north in the Vietnam war. These lives, displaced, put on hold, removed from their home and placed into an environment completely different and alien to them. This is not an easy book to read with all the stories involving the characters struggle against oppression and racism. The opening story takes the name of the novel and is perhaps a metaphor for the book. These refugees are taking a chance, chancing their luck in a new country. In "Lucky Ticket" an old war veteran who has lost his legs to the war, Cambodian, not Vietnam, sells lucky tickets from a street corner. If he has a good day, and sells enough tickets he eats well that night, if not he dines on a pack of chewing gum. This sets a tone for the whole collection, these refugees work hard for next to nothing, but what choice did they have.
Not all the stories take place in Australia either. In “Abu Dhabi Gently” the main character finds himself working in the United Arab Emirates, leaving Vietnam where he simply cannot make the money needed to marry his fiancée, her father giving him permission to marry but insisting that he must do more than sell food in a market. I particularly enjoyed “The Honourable Man”. A sad and poignant story about a father pondering what he is to do with his returning son. The son that he dragged to the door by the neck and threw out two years ago. The father does not want the son back and thinks that their problems stem from him. It is beautifully written. The son has returned at the behest of the mother. The father addresses him asking him to return, even though he does not want him to, “’Come home, and it will be different.’ I feel scales hardening on my lips and press my teeth across them.” This story is very short in length but so powerful. Following it is probably the most racially charged story, “Whitewashed”. The main character is Vietnamese and his closest friend is white and female. They struggle not just against strangers, hardening their resolve against the stares, but the main characters own father,
“You think I am stupid, Vi? Why don’t you let me speak to your friend? You think I can’t speak English? You are corrupted in the head. The druggie kid has corrupted you. Who do you think is on your side? The white people?” Joey Bui is a Vietnamese-Australian author and she graduated from New York University Abu Dhabi. it is clear she is writing to her strengths, but apart from this she is a gifted, talented writer, and her writing is first class. This does not feel like a debut collection of short stories. Bui manages to pack so much into each of the stories. The relationships and lives of the characters in each story are similar and yet refreshingly unique as well. While the plight of the refugee is the focus in most of the stories, Bui approaches the refugee experience from many different angles and each story does have a strong personal “real” feel. A very enjoyable read with none of the stories letting the collection down. 4 Stars.
Joey Bui is a Vietnamese Australian writer. She graduated from NYU Abu Dhabi, where she completed her first collection of short stories, Lucky Ticket, based on interviews with Vietnamese refugees around the world. Joey has been published in journals and magazines in the US and Australia, and competed in poetry slams in New York.
There is a brilliant interview with Joey Bui at LIMINAL - here - https://www.liminalmag.com/interviews/joey-bui