In this debut biography, a Vietnamese woman escapes her authoritarian country with her family to become an entrepreneurial success in the United States.
Many years ago, Hieu Vo knew that she couldn’t continue to live in Communist-controlled Vietnam—the government ruled its citizens with fear and relentless indoctrination, and she wanted a better life for her kids. Her husband, Tien, once an aspiring lawyer, was singled out by the government as suspicious and sent to work a menial job outside of Saigon as part of a plan to break his spirit. Hieu’s mother, Thi Ba, organized an escape for Hieu and her family by boat; Thi traded gold on the black market, which was an invaluable commodity after the national currency collapsed, and so she was plugged into the world of illicit exchange. But Hieu and her family were soon captured and sent to languish in prison, and author Driver captures her terrifying experience in unflinching prose: “she watched her children suffering in the environment. They became skinnier and skinnier, weaker and weaker. Khoa and Gialai grew so weak, they even lost their desire to be children.” After the family was finally released, Hieu immediately began planning a second escape attempt while waiting for her malnourished children’s strength to return. They finally made it by boat to Hong Kong, and then to America, where Hieu was known as “Charlie” and trained to become a manicurist. She eventually opened her own shop, ManTrap, which became a successful chain. Driver’s engrossing biography relates a remarkable series of accomplishments, conveying them in cinematically dramatic terms and highlighting Hieu’s indomitable spirit. Along the way, she deftly shares the history of the manicure industry, as well, showing how it became a support system for many Asian refugees and sometimes dealt with raids by government inspectors. Overall, Driver’s account is affecting and instructive throughout.
A captivating and inspiring immigration story.