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Butler’s “The Trip Back” is a heartbreaking story.  It is different from the love stories we have read in the sense that it is not necessarily about romantic love.  There is certainly room to see that, of course, between Mai and her husband.  There are several scenes between the two in which he describes their relationship, but I believe that the most interesting “love story” is between Mai and Mr. Chinh.  Mr. Chinh is Mai’s grandfather whom she hasn’t seen in years.  The narrator recounts the stories that his wife has told him about Mr. Chinh when she was a young girl.  The twist is that Mr. Chinh does not even remember Mai; he does not even believe that she should exist.  There is a love story present, even when one of the characters does not even know the other person.

You get this sense that there is something off about the grandfather.  He rarely speaks, and when he does he doesn’t say much or he says something very strange, like his obsession with cars.  There is an uneasy feeling throughout the story as the drive continues.  I think that the combination of this uneasy feeling and the eventual revelation that Mr. Chinh suffers from dementia is what makes this story so believable and moving.  Maybe, as someone who has gone through a similar experience with a grandfather, I am biased, but there is something about this story that really struck with me.

Like I said, perhaps this is because I witnessed someone slowly lose their mind and their memories to disease.  It really is a slow realization and an uneasy feeling that develops over time.  The narrator does not realize until it is too late that Mr. Chinh does not remember Mai.  It’s a tragic love story.  You hear about the granddaughter’s passion for her grandfather but you never get to witnesses it, which is why I think this story is so beautiful yet heartbreaking.

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