5 Questions with Vu Tran

dragonfish City Lights is excited to celebrate the 5th anniversary of the Subterranean SF Reading Series with Vu Tran, author of Dragonfish: A Novel (published by W.W. Norton). Vu took some time to answer our 5 questions before his special event this evening.

Event: Thursday, September 10 at 7:00PM, City Lights in conjunction with W.W. Norton present Vu Tran’s Dragonfish. The Subterranean SF Reading Series celebrates hard-boiled and noir fiction with underground “speakeasy” events held at secret locations around the city.

This event shall take place at an undisclosed location. Admission is free, but only on a first come, first serve basis. Seating is limited and by invitation only.

This event is 21 and over, please. Be prepared to show ID.

Invitations may only be picked up in-person at the front counter of City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, CA. Ask for the black envelope. It will contain directions to the venue and starting time. Each invite admits two.

No reservations shall be accepted.

Call City Lights to determine ticket availability (tel. 415-362-8193 x24)

About the Book: Robert, an Oakland cop, still can’t let go of Suzy, the enigmatic Vietnamese wife who left him two years ago. Now she’s disappeared from her new husband, Sonny, a violent Vietnamese smuggler and gambler who’s blackmailing Robert into finding her for him. As he pursues her through the sleek and seamy gambling dens of Las Vegas, shadowed by Sonny’s sadistic son, “Junior,” and assisted by unexpected and reluctant allies, Robert learns more about his ex-wife than he ever did during their marriage. He finds himself chasing the ghosts of her past, one that reaches back to a refugee camp in Malaysia after the fall of Saigon, as his investigation soon uncovers the existence of an elusive packet of her secret letters to someone she left behind long ago. Although Robert starts illuminating the dark corners of Suzy’s life, the legacy of her sins threatens to immolate them all.

“Vu Tran’s spellbinding debut novel had me turning pages late into the night. I was drawn in partly by the book’s utterly engrossing plot, partly by its vivid portrayal of a pitiless and dangerous Las Vegas, but mostly by its lovingly interwoven themes of loss, longing, renewal, and cultural memory.”—Tim O’Brien, winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Lifetime Achievement

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

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?

Vu Tran: I’ve never been to City Lights, though I’ve long known of its reputation. I guess I’d expect a ton of books, a super smart and friendly staff, and very well-read customers roaming the aisles. The nerdier and weirder the people, the better.

CL: If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?

VT: A few actual songs do show up in the book: Elton John’s “Empty Garden,” Fleetwood Mac’s “As Long As You Follow,” and Lee Hazlewood’s “Some Velvet Morning,” which all share the novel’s tone. As I was writing, I was also listening to a lot of nocturnally romantic music like Beach House, Fleet Foxes, The xx, Grizzly Bear, and Xavier Cugat. But if I could choose one album to play in the background as someone reads this book, it would be Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys.

CL: What’s the first book you actually finished reading?

VT: I honestly can’t remember, which is a shame. It would have been way back in the first or second grade. I remember my teacher reading us The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in class and me going home and reading The Magician’s Nephew on my own, after which I gobbled up the rest of the Narnia Chronicles. But I must have read much shorter books before I got to these. It’s just that I remember The Magician’s Nephew the most vividly.

CL: If you weren’t a writer, what might you do?

vu tranVT: Before I was thirty, I would’ve said a baseball player. Nowadays, I’m tempted to say a professional poker player. But the profession that seems most rewarding and fun would be movie acting. Not the acting part. I’ve never had much interest in performance of any kind. But certain parts of an actor’s life—in my imagination at least—seem ideal: traveling to places I’ve never been, meeting and working with new people on every project, learning to do things for the role that I’d never otherwise think to learn, assuming the personality and life of someone else. Every new movie would be a new experience, a nightmare possibly, but possibly a great adventure too.

CL: Name a few things you’d require if stranded on a desert island for an undefined period of time (and, yes, no Wi-Fi).

VT: I always take this question WAY too literally and seriously. So, if you remove any worries about shelter, sustenance, and protecting myself against mean animals, I’d probably want my laptop (to write and play music), some kind of solar-power supply, fins and snorkel, my toolbox, my Cubs hat, a complete works of Shakespeare, and the last five years’ worth of New Yorker magazines to catch up on.


Vu Tran reads from Dragonfish tonight as part of the Subterranean SF Reading Series in an undisclosed location. To get the secret location where the event will be held, come to the front desk and ask for the black envelope. Only folks 21 and over will be allowed access.

For more about Vu Tran, check out this NPR interview he did earlier this summer.

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