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A Memoir

by Juliet Lac

Pub Date: April 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-8065-3114-4
Publisher: Citadel/Kensington

Lac chronicles the harrowing journey from war-torn Vietnam to adulthood.

Born in 1967 in a small town near Saigon, the author was five months old when the Tet Offensive began. Her mother, a seamstress, was forced to flee with Lac and her younger sister Hanh. She saw her father only on his annual leave from the South Vietnamese army, when he was usually drunk and arguing with her mother. He was killed in 1975, and Hanh died soon after. In 1978, the author’s mother used their savings to purchase two spots on a small fishing boat that would smuggle them out of the country. It foundered off the coast of Malaysia, killing 200 of the 350 refugees crammed aboard, but Lac and her mother miraculously survived. After months in a prison-like refugee camp, they were granted U.S. residency and safely made it to California. Adjusting to America was difficult; they kept moving based on the whereabouts of her mother’s current boyfriend, and Lac resented it. She managed to graduate from high school in 1986 and became a U.S. citizen that same year. “Little by little,” she writes, “I had started to become a whole new person…someone who was not quite Vietnamese, not quite American, never completely comfortable or happy, and never sure why.” This self-pitying tone permeates the author’s strife-laden account of a disastrous marriage that produced two sons and a ten-year stay in Paris before she returned to the United States in 2006. She seems to have been yanked from land to land, domicile to domicile, by her mother, her husband and fate. Much of the memoir is told from a victim’s perspective, which gives a hollow ring to Lac’s attempt to trumpet her transformation from a frightened, withdrawn child to an autonomous autobiographer.

Fits snugly on the burgeoning stacks of immigrant and survivor memoirs, but given the sheer volume of such personal nonfiction, having lived to tell isn’t enough; you need to have something to say beyond complaints.