She learns a heartbreaking truth about the sacrifices her parents made for her and her siblings, as well as the turmoil created by French and American occupation in Vietnam.
"I thought she did a great job capturing how daunting it feels to be responsible for your family," Gates wrote. "At the same time, her family's experience is different from most (and certainly mine). It's clear that a lot of the dysfunction surrounding her childhood is a direct result of what happened in Vietnam."
Desmond, a sociologist at Princeton University, spent 18 months living in two neighborhoods in Milwaukee, Wisconsin — one mostly white, the other mostly black — with high rates of poverty and documented the lives of residents, including landlords and renters.
It was easy to empathize with the subjects, Gates said, because Desmond helps you understand why they make their choices. He won a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant and a Pulitzer for "Evicted."
"When you're paying so much to keep a roof over your head, there's no room for bad luck," Gates wrote. "A single bad incident can send you reeling."
"Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens" by Eddie Izzard (2017)
In this memoir, Izzard writes about how he worked through his childhood struggles, learned new skills, and became a world-renowned comedian, actor, writer, runner, and activist.
Gates said he connected with Izzard even though it would appear they have nothing in common — but that might be the point the author is trying to communicate.
"I've recently discovered that I have a lot in common with a funny, dyslexic, transgender actor, comedian, escape artist, unicyclist, ultra-marathoner, and pilot from Great Britain. Except all of the above," Gates wrote. "We're all cut from the same cloth. In his words, 'We are all totally different, but we are all exactly the same.'"
The book offers insight into what it was like to be caught between two sides of the Vietnam War, Gates said.
"Nguyen doesn't shy away from how traumatic the Vietnam War was for everyone involved. Nor does he pass judgment about where his narrator's loyalties should lie," Gates wrote. "Most war stories are clear about which side you should root for — 'The Sympathizer' doesn't let the reader off the hook so easily."