Q&A With Christina Vo
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Q&A With Christina Vo
Christina Vo is the author of The Veil Between Two Worlds: A Memoir of Silence, Loss, and Finding Home which recently came out in April of this year. Her next memoir My Vietnam, Your Vietnam which she co-wrote with her father comes out in May of 2024.
Q: So Christina would you like to tell the readers of the blog and I a bit about your memoirs The Veil Between Worlds & My Vietnam, Your Vietnam?
A: They are very different books with distinct messages. The Veil has a lot to do with healing of the mother wound—the relationship to the loss of my mother’s passing when I was a teenager and the reconciliation of how that impacted who I became as an adult, as well as a midlife identity search in terms of understanding why I made certain decisions and became the woman I am today. It is framed in the context of a road trip from San Francisco to Santa Fe, where I eventually landed during the pandemic, but there’s a lot of backstory to this memoir which adds another layer to the forward moving front story. That memoir illustrates a lot of the wounds I also have in terms of relationships and intimacy and my relationship to place as well.
MVYV is really about Vietnam, my father’s story, my story, and our relationship to each other as well as Vietnam. There’s very little in that book about my mother, so very broadly and generally, I would say one was for my father and one was for my mother. This can be broken down a bit more, and is of course more nuanced but in essence, that’s the big sky view. My father left Vietnam in 1975, and I returned for the first time in 2002 to intern with the United Nations. In my twenties, I would move there two additional times. So, I really became an adult in Vietnam and my relationship to that country was so vastly different to my father’s who grew up during the war and ultimately left as a result of it. Yet, the book brings us both together and shows differing perspectives of Vietnam as well as a shared love of the country.
Q: How long did it take you to write both memoirs?
A: It’s difficult to really to say how long because in my early thirties I wrote a lot of what I used to create MVYV. I think I had a near completed manuscript but I didn’t do anything with it. In part, because I thought that my experience in Vietnam alone was not interesting enough for a memoir. So I probably worked on my part of MVYV for about four years then, and then returned to it recently when the idea to co-author with my father emerged.
The same is true for The Veil—there were pieces that were written in the past but I think I wrote most of it through the two years of the pandemic. That was also the time when I finished MVYV, so the whole time it took to write both books is really unknown to me. Many years for both of them, for sure.
Q: What was it like writing My Vietnam, Your Vietnam with your father?
A: I think somewhere in a social media post I wrote about this experience with my dad. We actually didn’t really speak that much about it. He had written a book nearly 25 years ago that’s now out of print—that was his first book. It was a memoir based on his life and leaving Vietnam, so I used that book to help edit the sections of his portion of MVYV, then I incorporated my own story. I divided the book into sections so that it would be easier for readers to understand the movement through time and two distinct voices, and I’m pretty proud of how it turned out. My father and I don’t really speak with each other that much; we email and share small things here and there, but we aren’t the type of father-daughter duo that would be sitting at a table charting out this book together. However, I think the whole process showed how much love and respect we had for each other. He trusted me to create something, and he didn’t see the book until the full manuscript had already landed with a small press. He did not ask me to change anything, which I appreciated, and I think he really liked the book in the end. Honestly, this project was so meaningful and important to me because I think it helped me heal and reconcile so much about my relationship with my father.
Q: What important lessons do you hope readers take away from reading both memoirs?
A:In speaking to a friend last night, I told her that writing is a spiritual pursuit for me, not necessarily a literary one. By that I mean, my writing has always been a way for me to connect with and express a spiritual side of myself and lessons that I feel arise in my life. So, without going into too much of the weeds, I hope that people find healing through this book and in particular with MVYV, the healing and reconciliation of intergenerational wounds. I think different readers will find various lessons, so I more like to leave it up to the reader to see what they unearth and uncover.
Q: What advice would you give someone thinking about writing a memoir of their own?
A: Oh, there’s much to share about writing, particularly memoirs, which are quite tricky. I encourage aspiring writers to read a multitude of memoirs, paying attention to styles they admire and appreciate. Importantly, throughout the writing process, it’s vital for writers to trust their own voice, an essential element in crafting compelling stories and owning one’s personal narrative.
Memoirs typically cover a portion of someone’s life, not the entirety. They differ from autobiographies and a person’s complete memoirs, which chronicle their entire lives. Aspiring memoirists should reflect on why they wish to write a memoir, understanding and being honest about their motivations.
I also believe memoirs should not be penned in anger. It’s necessary for a writer to understand fully why they wish to write a memoir, ensuring that their reasons are sound and not misguided, for example based on anger or resentment towards others. or, when a person is in a victim state. The memoir should tell a story and follow an arc, and the writer must believe that this memoir could have an impact on others.
Q: If it’s not too early for you to say since My Vietnam, Your Vietnam, comes out in May 2024, are you writing another memoir or are you going to try your hand at writing fiction next?
A: I am working on my third book which, I hope and believe, will be my strongest work. And, yes, it is fiction which is challenging for me. However, after writing two memoirs, I want to explore and try a different genre. I also find that there are a lot of challenges with memoir writing and how that connects you to people, the opinions people form of you, the fear new people have that you’re going to write about them, which I understand is a legitimate concern, however because I have written two memoirs does not mean everyone I encounter is going to show up in a book :). This third book is more challenging than the other two; it has more layers, and interestingly, even though it’s not memoir, I feel the topic viscerally. This book is all about women and the various reflections of ourselves that we see in women around us. Obviously, there’s more to it than that but that’s all I say for now. 🙂
Q: Who were/are your biggest supporters of your writing goals and talents? Growing up did you know that you always wanted to write?
A:I’ve been a rather closeted writer for quite some time. I suppose it was in my late twenties when I really started thinking about writing. Before then, I would mostly dabble by writing journal entries or blog a little here and there. But, it was interesting because even though I pursued other creative paths, writing was always there, lingering in the back of my mind—this is how I knew it was a real desire.
Like many people, I talked a lot about writing and how much I wanted to be a writer. In my early 30s, I landed my first job as a writer for a development office at a university. It felt huge to be a professional writer, but that wasn’t the type of writer I wanted to be.
My close friends and my father have been my greatest supporters. Some friends would simply comment and say, “You’re a great writer.” That simple statement gave me courage to continue. I also read a lot about writing, and began to understand that it’s the ones that continue to write and not “talk” about writing that actually make it (whatever “making it” means for a specific person).
I did not always have a dream to become a writer. In fact, when I was younger, I was quite insecure about writing and sharing my thoughts but the more I did it, after my early 30s, the more I couldn’t really live without writing. It’s a way for me to express myself, and connect with the world around me.
Q: What was it like working and living in Hanoi Vietnam for UNICEF, UNDP, & Solidardad?
A: Rather than speak of those organizations in particular, I think I’ll share more about Hanoi and Vietnam, in general. Actually, a lot of this is covered in MVYV since that book, at least from my side, is a lot about my experience in Vietnam, namely my reverse trajectory there in my twenties, when I moved there on three different occasions to live and work at the organizations you’ve mentioned above. Vietnam changed my life—it was where I developed my adult identity and met the most amazing people, as well as learned more about my Vietnamese heritage, family, and identity. I would not be who I am today without having gone to Vietnam. I think it shaped me in a very positive and unique way; for example, many people graduate from college and move to an urban area to begin their careers. I certainly started a career but I did it abroad—in Vietnam—which fundamentally altered who I became as a person and even how I viewed myself as a professional. I won’t go into too much more detail, but all of this is covered in MVYV.
Q: What was it like being a part of The World Economic Forum in Geneva Switzerland?
A: Again, I’ll speak rather loosely about the organization, and perhaps more about Switzerland in general. I lived and worked there for about a year, although I had a three year contract. I believe I turned 30 when I was working there, and to be honest, it was the most difficult point of my life and a moment when I actually realized that my true passion was to be a writer. However, I did not know how to manage the pain and sadness that was inside me at the time, so even though I had this rather glamorous job with lots of perks, I was so unstable internally that it was hard to really enjoy all the beauty that Switzerland offered. Truthfully, though, without that moment in my life, I don’t know if I would’ve become the writer I am today. I needed the pain of that time period to push me to have a desire to create ART.