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The Trip Back

Robert Olen Butler’s “The Trip Back” is a first-person narrative about a Vietnamese man picking up his wife’s grandfather from the airport.

I am just a businessman, not a poet.”

Do not misjudge me. I am not a cold man.”

Mr. Kháhn continuously reminds the reader of what type of person he is, but his first person narration feels unreliable.  He is aware of how often he sounds unsympathetic, and it makes you wonder what type of man he truly is.  He doesn’t always assure you of what you want to hear, but it seems like a he has a certain way that he wants to be interpreted.

And I demanded of myself: Could I? Even as I stood there? Could I remember this woman who I loved? I’d lived with her for more than twenty years. And certainly if she was standing there beside me, if she spoke, she would have been intensely familiar. But separated from her, I could not picture her clearly.

The narrater parallels himself with Mr. Chinh and questions his own attachment to reality and the people and places that surround him.  He comes off as emotionally detached from the world each time he talks about his wife and children.  I’m unclear as to what Butler’s objective is with Khahn’s character; does he want us to see how American culture has allowed him to become removed from his family and morals?  He appears to be selfish and unemotional, as if the world is just passing him by, with no intention.  It isn’t until the end that he redeems himself by carrying his wife on his back the way her grandfather once did.  Still, I am confused by the end of the story, and I understand his character less and less.

Deep down, secretly, I may be prepared to betray all that I think I love the most”

It is as if Khanh feels no real connection with the world, just as Mr.Chinh could not.  Even though the ending is heartfelt, you can’t help but wonder if he does this because it is his duty as a husband, rather than what he really wants to do.

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