Dinh also likes to go off on rants. Much of one chapter, before his stop at the town’s lone bar, is taken up against a “criminal government.” Barack Obama is a “lying psychopath” guilty of “staggering historical crimes.” He spends almost an entire page questioning fundamental events of Sept. 11, 2001. “You’re liable to get into a fistfight if you merely point out the absurdity of a skyscraper collapsing at free-fall speed without being hit by anything,” he writes. Dinh gives us no evidence, or reason, for what convinces him of any of this, yet these asides accompany us throughout “Postcards.”
The problem is, it’s hard to keep rants and bar tabs going for 368 pages. It’s also disappointing. It feels as though after traveling our country, Dinh found little that challenges what seem to be the ideas he had when he set out. If travel doesn’t change you, then it’s hard to see what will.
Predictably, one of the first two comments is, "Why bother?" If you've been following my blog, then you obviously don't agree with the Washington Post's assessment of my Postcard project. Do consider leaving a comment there for their readers' sake.
In contrast to the Washington Post's take, here is one at Amazon by JustPlainBill:
This is a collection of Linh Dinh’s postcards, which taken together are a diary of his travels and his conversations with those he meets. When he arrives in town, he doesn’t look for the “important” people in town or the local celebrities. Instead, he seeks out the ordinary Americans that populate buses, trains, local bars and restaurants, or the streets themselves. In impressive detail, he shares with his readers brief portraits of them and the details of their conversations together.
Each of these postcards skillfully and subtly pulls you into the intimacy of the conversation. Although Linh never goes for sentimentality or sympathy, and does not judge his conversation partners, you would need a heart of stone to avoid feeling sad or occasionally heartbroken. This feeling builds as you eventually realize in your travels with Linh that he has not cherry-picked his experiences—the people he meets are everywhere, and not hard to find if you are looking in the right place.
Linh’s descriptions truly bring each person he meets to life. The subjects themselves are by turns cheerful, resigned, once in a while briefly angry or irritated. Unexpectedly, they hardly ever seem to feel openly sorry for themselves. Linh takes a personal risk time and time again that few of us would risk even once, actively seeking engagement with people no matter where he needs to go to meet them.
Although the “postcards” are arranged in chronological order (tracking his progress across the US by bus and train), none are dependent on one another, and could be read in any order. Even without Linh’s prompting, however, you will feel some themes emerge unbidden as you continue. Linh reserves his own judgements for general commentary on the state of US society, spaced throughout his narrative. Personally, this reader did not find much to disagree with in that respect.
Some might be tempted to judge or label many of the people Linh talks to as isolated aberrations or society’s outliers, but Linh will help you recognize that there are a lot more of them than you think, and they more and more are becoming the largest part of what is now America.
This is one of the best and most engaging books I have read in a long time, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. You can also read Linh’s ongoing postcards at his blog at linhdinhphotos.blogspot.com.
I'm with the plain Bills, Joes, Janes and Julies of the world.