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STORY BEHIND THE BOOK

‘Sigh, Gone’ memoir blends books, punk, and a refugee’s fight to fit in

David Wilson for the Boston Globe

Phuc Tran normally teaches Latin and Greek to high school students, but in the era of COVID-19 he finds himself teaching kindergarten and 3rd grade to his own children. “I think the student evaluations are not going to be kind,” he said with a laugh. Tran, who lives in Portland, Maine, is also a tattoo artist. And this month he takes on a new job title — author — with the publication of “Sigh, Gone: A Misfit’s Memoir of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight to Fit In.”

The book got its start in 2012, when Tran gave a TEDx talk. He decided, he said, “I’m just going to lay it all out there. I’m going to talk about being a refugee, about punk rock in high school.” NPR and other media attention bloomed. “That’s where it started,” he said. “The idea that I have a story to share really came from the response to the TEDx talk.”

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At the book’s center is Tran’s struggle to find the kind of authentic, meaningful life he knew he wanted, even if his parents and others in his hometown didn’t always understand. “I couldn’t have written this in my 20s or even my 30s. It took a long time to metabolize those experiences.”

In “Sigh, Gone,” Tran writes of childhood as a Vietnamese refugee in Pennsylvania, falling in love with reading, music, and skateboarding. The chapter titles borrow from great books such as “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” “The Iliad,” and “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.” They could just as easily have been album titles, Tran said. “One of the most important things for me in writing the book was to unpack all of my contradictions and paradoxes. I want to embrace that, lay it out there: I’m complicated, and so are you.”

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Tran will give a virtual reading 6 p.m. Tuesday co-sponsored by the Boston Public Library, WGBH forum, and the American Ancestors series of the New England Historical Genealogical Society. https://bpl.bibliocommons.com


Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.