Sunday, March 6, 2016

Book Review: Tanon Sai Jai by Bryan Thao Worra

Mary Moua
ASA 150E
6 March 2016

Life As Worra Knows It

In the book Tanon Sai Jai, author Bryan Thao Worra writes about his life as a Laotian American in the form of poems where he expresses his thoughts and feelings about a variety of topics including identity and culture, food, nature, his homeland of Laos, and assimilating to American society and culture. He does this by writing the poems in stanzas with many of them being short and just a page long while some others are one to two pages in length. Through Worra’s writing mechanisms, he does an effective job at providing context and details about his life and how his journey as a Laotian adopted individual has impacted his life and shaped the person that he has come to be and embraced.

            While reading Tanon Sai Jai, one comes to gain a better understanding of Worra through the topics and themes that he writes about to describe his feelings, thoughts, and experiences. One topic or motif that was consistently brought up in many of the poems present in the book is change and the idea that change is possible in the world despite the many problems and issues that exist in the world that tries to prevent it. Worra’s persistent belief in change is supported through his optimism and positivity - feelings that he continually emits and expresses throughout the book. His positive outlook on life supports his notions of change because it explicitly demonstrates that he believes in people and individuality and the idea that anyone can make change and be the change that the world needs. His hope for change and progress in society is evident through poems like “Notes Regarding the Living Heart” or “Khao Jai” where he emphasizes on the importance of believing in one’s self as well as others so that the positive change that needs to happen in the world can finally begin. His notion of change implies that with the combination of one’s self as well as with the work and collaboration of others, this change can happen and progress can start to finally happen. In “Notes Regarding the Living Heart”, Worra mentions about the different possible methods one can use or do to start the change that they wanna see, such as meeting a stranger or climbing a mountain. While the poem may seem like it was written to Worra himself as a reminder of the things he can do to elicit the transformation and progress in society he would like to witness, the poem is also written to give the readers suggestions on Worra’s thoughts about change and ideas that may work towards their favor in ending the perpetuation of issues like racism or judgments. Through the words “With a khop jai and a smile, do what you change worlds, even one inch, one hand at a time”, Worra strongly believes that change is possible and that even one little thing can make a big difference in the long run (9). Worra continues to support his opinion on change in “Khao Jai” where he speaks about the different barriers that influences one to stop believing one’s self such as “a title, a grade or a sheet of paper” which can therefore “...hold a soul back from all of the good they can do in the world” (29). Through this poem, Worra demonstrates his belief in individuality and the perception that everyone is unique in their own way, that everyone moves and learns at their own pace, and that self-confidence and self-esteem is crucial in creating change. Worra’s strong belief in change is evident through many of the poems in Tanon Sai Jai and provides a great perspective on the type of person he is and how he feels about the way society is right now.
            Another topic that Worra constantly wrote about in the book was his experiences of racism and the obstacles he came across for being an Asian American citizen living in the United States. As a person of color, Worra was not an exception to negative plagues like racism, stereotypes, and microaggression and wrote about these experiences in his book. In poems like “Midwestern Conversations” and “Surprises in America”, Worra describes his experiences with individuals who teased him and placed in him a box of stereotypes, categories, and labels all because of the color of his skin. In “Midwestern Conversations”, readers are aware through Worra’s story that racism comes in all shapes and forms and can happen to anyone from anyone. From being complimented to speaking “English even better than some of the students who were born here” to being told that he looked like “one of the bad guys”, Worra has been a victim and survivor of microagressions and stereotypes that has affected him and shaped his life in some way or shape (30). Worra continues to share his unfortunate experiences of racism in the next poem “Surprises in America” where he is attacked and questioned for being an American even though he was raised in America and lived there for most of his life. He writes, “It struck me by surprise that many people didn't believe I was an American, when I had lived here all of my life” (32). While other people were questioning him and his identity, Worra was questioning America and whether it was really the “Land of Opportunity” that he had thought it was supposed to be. It is through these few poems that readers discover Worra’s disappointment with America because of all the issues he’s faced as an Asian American individual just trying to make it in the world and his longing to live back in his homeland of Laos - the one place that provides him with happiness and fulfillment that the United States can’t necessarily provide him.

            While reading Worra’s poems, I noticed that he talked about a variety of topics and created his poems to encompass many themes and motifs. I’m curious as to what inspired him to write a book about his life and experiences and one where those experiences are written in the form of poems. Authors usually just write an autobiography about themselves by simply narrating the stories in paragraphs and chapters, but Worra demonstrates his individuality by writing these stories in poems. My question for him would be what inspired him to write about his life, particularly through poems and not the usual common kind of medium that readers are used to reading and writers are used to writing. Since Worra also wrote about the topic of change many times in Tanon Sai Jai, I would like to know whether he thinks there is change being made in society nowadays, what he believes change looks like, and whether or not he believes it’s still possible for change to happen with all that is going on in the world right now, especially with issues like racism and poverty just to name a few.
            Tanon Sai Jai is a book that explores author Bryan Thao Worra’s life experiences and memories. By constructing these stories in the form of poems, Worra presents different stories and memories that he has experienced throughout his life, such as experiences with racism and his beliefs about change, identity, and culture. In the book, Worra is able to weave through and tie all the topics and themes together, ultimately demonstrating proof of his intersectionality and his pride in being a Laotian American individual who will and has made change in the world in many ways - with one of them being this book.


Worra, Bryan Thao. Tanon Sai Jai: Poems. Minneapolis, MN: Silosoth Pub., 2010. Print



No comments:

Post a Comment