Shiroff has created a moving fictionalized version of how he and other Americans helped political refugees.
The title refers to Cambodian children orphaned by the Pol Pot regime of the Khmer Rouge. In Shiroff’s semiautobiographical novel, protagonist Herb is moved by the plight of Cambodian refugees: “After seeing the report on 60 Minutes, [he] felt an overwhelming need to do something. To somehow become involved, to help fix the damage we were doing in Southeast Asia.” With the help of the Lutheran Children and Family Service, Herb, his wife, Jennifer, and their three children soon welcome a Cambodian couple into their suburban Philadelphia home. After that couple finds a home of their own, a single mother and her young daughter soon follow. Jennifer gets deeply involved with the Cambodians’ plight and falls in love with a handsome Cambodian refugee. She abandons her family and moves to Cambodia to work with refugees there. Herb, a hands-on business owner, finds himself a single father to three kids while still hosting the Cambodian mother and daughter. The bulk of the novel details how Herb, Jennifer, and the children adjust to their new circumstances. Herb explains, “As for Jennifer, she was really nowhere in this equation. Now and then she would call to speak with the kids, and sometimes she would meet them for dinner.…But her contact with the children was sporadic at best.” Shiroff’s book illustrates how private citizens can aid homeless refugees. He has drawn a memorable cast in this multigenerational saga, with fascinating back stories for the refugees. Several scenes seem out of place, but overall, Shiroff has written an intriguing examination of how one family’s involvement can affect others.
A novel angle on how an American family worked with Cambodian refugees.