The Chieu Hoi Saloon in Booklist

The Chieu Hoi Saloon

By Thomas Gaughan

February 15, 2011 Chieu hoi is Vietnamese for give up, and most of the regulars at the titular saloon in Long Beach have done exactly that. Harry Hudson, the protagonist, is a copy editor at the local newspaper, but emotionally he fits right in. Having fled his marriage, he is trying to drink away his tattered and tragic past and finds that the Chieu Hoi, a church with a “congregation of fools,” makes an ideal venue. He and the other regulars gather there hoping that Mama Thuy, the bar’s formidable owner, can impart in them some of her “wholeness.” Set in 1992, in the months before the riots following the police beating of Rodney King, Harris’ often-compelling novel features a number of well-developed characters. But the author overreaches in attempting to tell very closely observed stories about a handful of characters while also offering broader sketches of a gritty port city in decline, the L.A. riots, racism, and the plight of minorities in the L.A. metropolitan area. There’s much to like here, but some readers will wish for a narrower focus.

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