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Like the unnamed heroine of her debut novel, The Gangster We Are All Looking For, lê thi diem thúy set out in an open boat with her father and four strange men, “uncles” from now on, from Vietnam. It was 1978, and 6 year-old Le and her father were among thousands of “boat people” fleeing the victorious communist regime. Gangster floats like that bobbing craft on the South China Sea between memories of Vietnam and a traumatic new life in San Diego. The young immigrant asks repeatedly to go to the beach to find her mother; she doesn’t understand that the beach her mother was left on is 12,000 miles away. Gradually, the family learns to navigate the strange world of cars, grocery stores, and public schools. And as she grows up, the child orchestrates her second escape—that of an American girl from her foreign parents. Lê reads at 7 p.m. at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Janet Hopf)