Eight stories shift between life in Vietnam before Operation Babylift, which evacuated some 2,000 Vietnamese orphans shortly before Saigon’s fall, and life in the US for the orphans who grew up here.
“Miss Lien” offers the familiar tale of a young girl who leaves her newborn at a rural convent after having been impregnated (possibly by force) while working to support her war-ravaged family. The title piece, next, introduces Kim (Lien’s daughter?) and her boyfriend, a gang member named Vinh, both having been raised in a series of California foster homes that have left them emotionally adrift and full of rage at both Americans and Vietnamese. “The Delta” returns to the rural convent in Vietnam, where a nun calls on her former fiancé to help deliver babies to a better-supplied orphanage in Saigon. Back in California, in “Visitors,” Vinh lets his emotional guard down with an old Vietnamese man before his gang robs the old man’s house, while in “Gates of Saigon,” a Vietnamese woman who works at the Saigon orphanage is offered the chance to leave during the evacuation but stays after learning that her husband and oldest son are imprisoned in the north. College-bound Mai has led a happy childhood in America, living with a caring foster family until her “Emancipation” at 18, but Mai can’t escape her sense of guilt for succeeding over her best friend Kim. An American doctor in “Bound” learns that her altruistic decision to leave her family to work in the Saigon orphanage will keep her from adopting a Vietnamese toddler. As an adult, that toddler, Huong, returns to the “Motherland” with his adoptive mother—not the doctor—and his old friend Mai. Resistant at first, he visits the orphanages and finds a sense of closure.
Many of the stories, especially those in Vietnam, read like thinly veiled journalism, but newcomer Phan’s painfully damaged characters should pull the heartstrings of remembering Americans.