Review: You Will Always Be Someone From Somewhere Else by Dao Strom

James Arbuthnott

In poems, Dao Strom attacks the origin of the words she’s learned since leaving Vietnam for America.
Review: You Will Always Be Someone From Somewhere Else by Dao Strom

You Will Always Be Someone From Somewhere Else By Dao Strom.

Writer and musician Dao Strom moved from Saigon to America when she was a child. Her 2018 book, in collaboration with Vietnamese translator Ly Thuy Nguyen, You Will Always Be Someone From Somewhere Else tries to ‘re-member’ her past as part of the Vietnamese diaspora.

Strom takes fragments of memories, culture, language, childhood stories and personal mythology, displaying them through snapshots of poems and photographs as she re-visits her birthplace. It’s through the geography of her life, her forgotten tongue and scattered history, which confuses, and casts doubt over who she thought she was and where she is from.

Vietnamese translations sit side-by-side Strom’s adopted language, disordered alongside photographs of memories at a juxtaposition with America. War, men, her parents, returning at first alone in 1996 and for a second time with her husband, ‘carrying wings’ and to save her marriage:

‘One year I thought a cure might be enacted by returning together to the place I’d previously travelled to alone, which was also the originating place I had been severed from… On our marriage-saving trip, I hauled my wings in a blue plastic case from north to south. At moments anger would mount in me. I am from here too, I wanted to shout, and I’ve spent a lifetime caring and carrying, what you think I’ve forgotten.’

What Strom remembers about where she’s from is scattered and re-collected in You Will Always Be Someone From Somewhere Else, making the reader reflect on their own identity through someone torn between two of their own. It teaches us that in the global flow of humans in the diaspora, cultures, languages, images, histories and identities are sewn together and severed in bizarre places.

Strom’s birth father spent 10 years in a ‘re-education camp’ - persecuted for being a writer. So she’s aware of their disparate meanings and effects on those who read them. Dao Strom attacks the origin of the words she’s learned since moving from Vietnam to America. She re-incorporates the hyphen to show us where our words come from and what they mean to us, re-organising and skewering our colonial interpretations of our surroundings.

Released by small press poetry publisher AJAR Press in September 2018, You Will Always Be Someone From Somewhere Else not only reveals the pluralities we have within ourselves, it connects a hybrid language of languages with history, identity and memories, although now she realises her memories no longer belong to her.

Rating: Four stars ★★★★

You Will Always Be Someone From Somewhere Else

By Dao Strom

Bilingual fragments
Dao Strom | Ly Thuy Nguyen translation
ISBN: 978-1-7320466-0-3
128 pages 

AJAR Press

RRP: US$10

About the author

James Arbuthnott is a regional journalist in the Campaspe area, Victoria and book reviewer at ArtsHub Australia. Twitter: @we_forgot