A candidly moving and historically thoughtful account.

AMERICAN DREAMER

HOW I ESCAPED COMMUNIST VIETNAM AND BUILT A SUCCESSFUL LIFE IN AMERICA

A debut memoir recounts life under Communist rule in Vietnam and a man’s daring escape to America.

Tran’s life was always shadowed by the political tempestuousness of his native Vietnam. Born in a small coastal village in 1950, he was later forced to flee with his family, transformed into a refugee at the age of 4. The author’s father, Nguyen Dinh Muu—he eventually had to change his name—joined the Viet Minh nationalist cause but abandoned it after it took an aggressive Communist turn, compelling him to relocate out of fear of retribution. Tran and his family would have to move yet again, this time to Saigon, once the war between the northern and southern portions of the country finally caught up with them. But the author’s father, seeing promise in Tran’s aptitude, rigorously prepared him for academic success and a way out. Later, the author won a scholarship to attend college in the United States. He studied at Pacific University in Oregon and the University of California at Berkeley and was confronted with a terrible choice, poignantly depicted here: Return to Vietnam as required, or defy the terms of his scholarship. He chose to fly back, confident that harmony and stability were achieved with the Paris Peace Accords in 1973 and committed to marrying his girlfriend, Thuy. But the minute he returned, his passport was confiscated, and for the next four years, he languished under Communist rule, always looking for a way out. Tran writes simply, even journalistically, describing in vividly powerful detail the horror of the despotism he survived. In the airport the day he returned to Vietnam, “the military presence was immediately palpable. All around me, I saw hundreds of sandbags, barbed wire, and soldiers armed with M-16 rifles….Within seconds of arriving, I knew I had gone from the Land of the Free to the Land Under Military Control.” Still, this is not a dour lamentation but rather an inspiring story of personal triumph. The author not only fled Vietnam in a wooden fishing boat and made it back to the United States, he also ultimately prospered both personally and financially. Furthermore, Tran’s book—written with Fields-Meyer—delivers an astute synopsis of a chaotic period in Vietnamese history and an intelligent commentary on the perspectives of Americans during that time.

A candidly moving and historically thoughtful account.

Pub Date: June 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-945398-02-5

Page Count: 390

Publisher: Pacific University Press

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

HUMANS

The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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A refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

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WILL

One of Hollywood’s biggest stars delivers a memoir of success won through endless, relentless work and self-reckoning.

“My imagination is my gift, and when it merges with my work ethic, I can make money rain from the heavens.” So writes Smith, whose imagination is indeed a thing of wonder—a means of coping with fear, an abusive father with the heart of a drill instructor, and all manner of inner yearnings. The author’s imagination took him from a job bagging ice in Philadelphia to initial success as a partner in the Grammy-winning rap act DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Smith was propelled into stardom thanks to the ministrations of Quincy Jones, who arranged an audition in the middle of his own birthday party, bellowing “No paralysis through analysis!” when Smith begged for time to prepare. The mantra—which Jones intoned 50-odd times during the two hours it took for the Hollywood suits to draw up a contract for the hit comedy series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air—is telling, for hidden within this memoir lies a powerful self-help book. For Smith, all of life is a challenge in which one’s feelings are largely immaterial. “I watched my father’s negative emotions seize control of his ample intellect and cause him over and over again to destroy beautiful parts of our family,” he writes, good reason for him to sublimate negativity in the drive to get what he wanted—money, at first, and lots of it, which got him in trouble with the IRS in the early 1990s. Smith, having developed a self-image that cast him as a coward, opines that one’s best life is lived by facing up to the things that hold us back. “I’ve been making a conscious effort to attack all the things that I’m scared of,” he writes, adding, “And this is scary.” It’s a good lesson for any aspiring creative to ponder—though it helps to have Smith’s abundant talent, too.

A refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984877-92-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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