One of those well-meaning stories weighed down by too many good intentions. Born in South Vietnam, eleven-year-old Em now lives in America with what remains of his family. As he's struggling to write something on the Day of the Ancestors, his thoughts return to his native land, and these flashbacks recreate village life in the Sixties: his close, loving, English-speaking family befriends an American reporter and attempts a normal life as the fighting grows nearer. They are temporarily separated--several go to good jobs in Saigon--and then some die in the TÃªt offensive, as does the reporter, protecting Em and his beloved buffalo from search-and-destroy soldiers. It's a slowly plotted story, well researched but sluggishly told, and the message gets overbearing. (Before TÃªt, Em visits Saigon and sees orphaned children ""standing silently in groups or by themselves, patient, hungry, cared for, but unloved. There were too few people and too much work for love to be given to so many children."") Accurate, perhaps, but uninvigorating as fiction.