Ticket to Childhood by Nguyen Nhat Anh
~post by Ben
How do you remember your childhood?
I can remember joyfully imitating Michael Jordan in a humid basement with a Nerf foam basketball and an empty laundry basket. I remember catching fireflies in a jar at dusk. Yet, just as easily, I can remember having to show my parents my homework every night and being forced to eat broccoli. I remember how I wasn’t allowed to watch TV as much as my friends or own video games for years. How the adults conspired against me. How they kept me from living in the woods and becoming a professional wrestler and from reading Great Illustrated Classics in math class. How, at what seemed like every turn, I wasn’t allowed to do what I wanted.
And this is most often how I remember growing up. The tyranny of adults is seldom discussed once we ourselves have turned old and become the oppressors. Nguyen Nhat Anh, however, does not forget these slights so easily. Ticket to Childhood takes on the rigid order of the adult world with the free and stubborn mind of a child. The bestselling book in the history of modern Vietnam and the author’s debut in English, this is a fable of youth as captured by a narrator who confronts the restrictions imposed by the adult world. Recounting the adventures of he and his friends from when he was eight years old, our narrator confronts these obstacles again once he and his friends are grown and they discover he is writing this book. We, as readers, are able to delight in the results.
Nguyen Nhat Anh takes on love, language, and societal norms in turn with ingenuity and humor. It’s a book that reads quickly, but can be savored and revisited in the same way memories can. The recollections and musings in Ticket to Childhood are playful, but like all great fables, there is something to be learned from them. The narrator challenges us to look from the other side of that invisible border between childhood and adulthood. What we see is a different type of truth and justice, no less right than the one we’ve become accustomed to.
The Overlook Press brings us a title that reaches beyond its own setting and wild popularity in Vietnam. Nguyen Nhat Anh approaches the truth of childhood head-on without the conceit of magic or strange lands (though I do love both of these dearly). But, as many of us surely know, childhood from the viewpoint of a child contains enough surrealism and adventure for this book to be more than just another memoir from some nostalgic old fogey. If you’ve been dulled by the monotony of adult life, Ticket to Childhood is the whetstone to enliven you again. Whether creating a new language or putting adults on trial, our narrator helps us journey back to what we lost upon growing up, to the wonders and misadventures of childhood. In Ticket to Childhood, Nguyen Nhat Anh has constructed a pathway for us to travel along in case we’ve forgotten the way. And that alone, is worth the price of the ticket.