This book is my fifth selection in the War Through the Generations - Vietnam (Reading Challenge)! I have completed the minimum requirements of this challenge, but I still want to read a couple of more novels.
This memoir by Kien Nguyen follows his family at the end of the Vietnam War and the beginning of the new regime.
Kien's mother, Khoun, learned how to speak English and worked with Americans. She had two sons without marrying the fathers. When the men left Vietnam, they left money to her and she was able to buy a home. What surprised me is that her parents lived with her; I would have thought that they would be embarrassed by their daughter's actions, even though she provided well for them. Her sister, however, did not approve of her lifestyle and was very happy when Kien's mother lost all her property and money.
Kien's grandparents didn't want to leave Vietnam, despite all the pleading by Khoun. Khoun and the boys just missed the last helicopter out of Saigon and were trapped.
Khoun was a beautiful but haughty and vain woman. She treated most servants with disdain. She mostly ignored her children. When the new government took over, the former gardener took over her house and threw her out. She went to live in a tiny house, next to her sister and brother-in-law.
The family was able to somewhat survive due to Khoun selling her jewelry and working in a stand selling soup. She needed permits to do other work, but she was denied most of them because of her being a capitalist. But, instead of treating her children and parents better, she became bitter and thought mostly of herself. Even her last boyfriend, a horrid Vietnamese, would bring grief to the family.
The ones who suffered the most were the boys, Kien and Jimmy. Having round eyes gave away their paternity. They experienced discrimination in school. Their own cousins beat them up, and the authorities really didn't care.
Kien's early life was difficult; no child should ever live through what he did. But, despite all this, he was essentially a good person, who never gave up.
Kien did have some happy moments; he made some friends, he reunited with a servant who loved him a lot, he was able to study. However, at one point, he realized that he had no future in the new Vietnam and started writing to the United Nations and the US Embassy in Thailand to ask for asylum. I am surprised that the letters were allowed to travel to their destination. And, one day, his wish did come true.
The Amerasian children in the village heard about his success and came to Kien to seek his help in filling out the application. "Two black girls, the first in line, grinned at me." They needed help in filling out the paperwork, since they couldn't read. " "We saved some money to pay for your services." She opened her hand to show me a wrinkled twenty-dong note. She must have held it so long and so tightly that the bill was nearly decomposed from the perspiration of her palm." Despite needing money for a trip to Saigon, Kien told them to keep the money.
Khoun remembered the girls from a noodle store and asked about their mother. "She died last year. The doctors said it was from syphilis. We have been on our own since."
This memoir is difficult to read but he considers himself one of the luckier one.