Texte de Lê Thi Diem Thúy


« When Mel approached us at the airport, we heard a faint rattling(1): a ring full of gold and silver keys hanging from his belt. With each step Mel took, the ring swung and rattled by his side. The keys were new to him. Mel was tall and thin, but the ring looked fat, important. Mel caught the ring and pushed it into his pocket. This silenced the keys for a moment. He shook everyone's hand – including mine – and laughing nervously said, "Welcome to America." He then waved his hand in the air and when I followed it with my eyes, I saw a poster of a man and a woman at the beach, lying on striped towels, sunning themselves between two tall palm trees. Above the palm trees were large block letters that looked like they were on fire: SUNNY SAN DIEGO. The man was lying on his stomach, his face buried in his folded arms. The woman was lying on her back, with one leg down and the other leg up, bent at the knee. […] After Mel and his mother took us to the room in Mel's house where Ba, the four uncles and I would all be sleeping, they wished us goodnight and left us alone, closing the door quietly behind them. They stood in the hallway and we could hear them talking. Even without understanding a word of what they were saying, the tone of their voices troubled us. Had we been able to understand, we might have heard the following: "I feel like I've inherited a boatload of people(2). I mean, I've been living here alone and now I've got five men I've never met before, and what about that little girl?" "Dear, you know your father wanted them here." "Here in America, sure, but not here with me." "Well, it's worked out that way. If your father were here –" The woman started to cry. "I'm sorry, Mother. I'm so sorry." We heard their footsteps move down the hallway toward the living room. Inside the bedroom, we all remained quiet in our places. Ba was standing with his back against the door. The four men were sitting on the two bunk beds and I was sitting on the double bed, my knees pulled up near my chest. One of the uncles took a deep breath and lay down on the bed. He was still wearing his shoes and let his feet hang off the edge of the bed so he wouldn't get the covers dirty. Ba stepped forward and explained to the four men and me that Mel had bought our way into the United States. He said that Mel was a good man. We heard without really listening. We nodded. Ba said that Mel had let the people at the airport gates know that it was OK for us to be here. "If it wasn't for him," Ba said, "they would have sent us back the way we came." We each thought of these long nights floating on the ocean, rocking back and forth in the middle of nowhere with nothing in sight. We remembered the ships that kept their distance. We remembered the people leaning over the decks of the ships to study us through their binoculars and not liking what they saw, turning away from our boat. If it was true that this man Mel would keep us from floating back there – to those salt-filled nights – what could we do but thank him? And then thank him again. Only why did it seem from the tones of the voices in the hallway as if something was wrong? Ba said that we had to be patient. Two of the uncles nodded. One closed his eyes. One lay down and turned toward the wall. I wrapped my arms around my knees and studied my bare feet. They were very clean; not a speck of sand or salt on them. Ba said whatever we might come to think of Mel, we should always remember that he opened a door for us and that this was an important thing to remember. »
Lê Thi Diem Thúy, The gangster we are all looking for, 2004

1. Where exactly does the scene take place at the beginning of the text?
2. Where do the characters go from there?
a) Who do the following underlined words refer to?
"They wished us good night".
"I've got five men I've never met before, what about that little girl?"
b) Among the characters mentioned above, who are the refugees?
4. What exactly has been arranged for the night? (20-30 words)
5. "Had we been able to understand, we might have heard the following…"
What does the first part of the sentence imply?
6.  In your own words, say how Mel feels about the presence of the refugees. (30-40 words)
7. Give two quotations showing the effect of the conversation from "I feel like…" to "I'm so sorry" on the refugees.
8. Describe Ba's attitude. What role does he try to play in the group? (20-30 words)
a)  In your own words, explain why Mel is said to be "a good man" (2 elements).
b) What image does Ba use at the end of the text to refer to Mel's role?
c) What element in the first paragraph announces this image?
10. Focus on the memories Ba's words bring back to the narrator's mind. Describe the situation the refugees had to face and the reactions they were confronted with. (40-50 words)
11. Read from "If it was true…" to …wrong?" Analyse the narrator's feelings. (20-30 words)
Choose one of the following subjects. (250 words approximately. Write down the number of words.)
1. Continue the story, starting with: "The following day, we all got up early…"
2. Leaving everything behind: a traumatic experience or a challenge? Discuss.
Translate into French from the beginning of the text to "… SUNNY SAN DIEGO".
(1) rattling: series of short regular knocking sounds.
(2)In the late seventies and early eighties, thousands of Vietnamese fled their country by boat and found temporary refuge in neighbouring countries.


1. At the beginning of the text, the scene takes place at the airport, in the United States of America.
2. From there, the characters go to Mel's house.
  • "they" refers to Mel and his mother.
  • "us" refers to the narrator, Ba and the four uncles.
  • "I" refers to Mel.
  • "five men" refers to Ba and the four uncles.
  • "that little girl" refers to the narrator.
b) Among the characters mentioned above, the narrator, Ba and the four uncles are the refugees.
4. It had been planned that the narrator, the four uncles and Ba were all going to spend the night in the same room, at Mel's house.
5. The first part of the sentence seems to imply that they didn't understand what Mel and his mother were saying because they did not speak English, so the content of the dialogue is imagined by the narrator.
6. Mel feels that the refugees are a burden to him because he used to live alone. He feels his father has imposed their presence on him. He also feels uncomfortable because he is not used to having a child around.
  • "The tone of their voices troubled us."
  • "Only why did it seem from the tones of their voices in the hallway as if something was wrong."
  • "We all remained quiet in our places."
8. Ba is explaining the situation to the others. Unlike the rest of the group he is standing. He plays the role of the reassuring leader.
a) Mel is said to be "a good man" since he has spent money to enable the refugees to come into the US. He talked immigration officers into letting them in. He welcomed them and put them up in his home.
b) Ba says about Mel that "he opened a door" for them.
c) In the first paragraph, the keys hanging from Mel's belt attracted the narrator's attention on her arrival at the airport and it announces this image. The keys have a symbolical role in the passage.
10. They had to spend quite a long time on a boat lost at sea. Nobody helped them. Although the passengers on the boat were curious enough to look at them through their binoculars, they were not interested enough to come to their rescue. People were scornful and chose to ignore them.
11. Although she knows she should be grateful for what Mel has done, she can't help feeling worried about the future. She is doubtful because she doesn't know what they can expect.
1. Il s'agit d'écrire une suite du texte dans laquelle il ne faudra pas oublier de garder le même style et le même niveau de langue. Pensez également à respecter la psychologie et le comportement des personnages pour rester cohérent avec ce qui précède.
2. I think I would be ready to leave everything behind but not to abandon my family and my friends to live my dream. Nowadays it is very easy to keep in touch with people thanks to the telephone and the Internet wherever you are, so that wouldn't be a problem.
Anyway, it would certainly be a challenge and a real adventure implying difficulties to overcome. I don't think it would be a traumatic experience since when you make up your mind you think twice and do not act on the spur of the moment. It might prove to be uneasy but it would become traumatic only if, after a while, it were a failure, or worse a nightmare.
Nevertheless, if I had a dream to fulfil, I would certainly decide to leave on condition that it were exciting, but it would also mean starting a new life and most probably in a foreign country. I think I would make up my mind to do so if I had a strong desire to break the routine of life and felt like starting anew. In short, there would be advantages and drawbacks.
On the one hand, I think I would take that kind of decision if it were interesting and if it offered a wide range of opportunity so as to achieve my potential.
On the other hand, wherever you go and when you leave your family you have to adapt to a new way of living and an unfamiliar surrounding so that you often miss your relatives and friends. Moreover, you have to start from scratch so you may feel lost and torn between your previous life and the new one which can make you feel confused and puzzled, if not apprehensive, after some time rather than excited as you were at first.
All this goes to show that I would certainly think twice and weigh up the pros and the cons, but in spite of all the obstacles I might encounter, I would probably be ready to take the decision and it might prove to be a valuable experience.
Lorsque Mel vint à notre rencontre à l'aéroport, nous entendîmes un léger cliquetis qui venait d'un anneau de clés dorées et argentées accroché à sa ceinture. À chaque pas que Mel faisait, l'anneau se balançait à sa hanche et les clés cliquetaient. Ces clés étaient nouvelles pour lui. Mel était grand et mince mais l'anneau avait l'air massif et imposant. Mel saisit l'anneau et le glissa dans sa poche. Cela mit momentanément fin au bruit que faisaient les clés. Il serra la main de tout le monde, y compris la mienne, et dit en riant nerveusement : « Bienvenue en Amérique ».
Il fit alors un grand geste de la main et quand je le suivis du regard, je vis une affiche représentant un homme et une femme à la plage, étendus sur des serviettes à rayures, se bronzant entre deux grands palmiers. Au dessus des palmiers s'étalait en grandes lettres d'imprimerie qui semblaient être en feu : SAN DIEGO, LA VILLE ENSOLEILLÉE.