Lan Cao has lived in the United States for more than forty years, but she does sometimes still feel tentative about her place in her adoptive country. After coming here at the age of thirteen and after eighteen years of being a mother, she still feels as though she is in a foreign landscape in some capacity. Family in Six Tones: A Refugee Mother, an American Daughter is a dual memoir from Lan and her American teenage daughter Harlan Margaret Van Cao that examines their experiences and interactions with each other.
The story is set up in short chapters that allow Harlan to describe the rites of passage of childhood and adolescence as they tie into her family’s history of war and migration. Lan provides her own thoughts and experiences which creates a captivating alternating storytelling format. Lan’s own struggles with the traumatic aftermath of war and her daughter’s interludes that focus on flashbacks and dissociative identity disorder moments, which allows for larger discussions of fights and setbacks that they have experienced and how they have accepted the past and are working toward the future together.
Family in Six Tones is unlike any memoir I have reviewed for this site before. Typically I am used to one main narrative, but the way that this book is able to interpose the mother and the daughter throughout allows the story to evolve for the reader. We get to see their lives and their relationship through the lens of how everything they have experienced has impacted them. This is a touching and beautifully crafted read about family and what can impact a family, particularly a mother-daughter relationship. You can pre-order your copy of Family in Six Tones today.