Tuesday, November 26, 2013

An excellent book...

Just finished reading listening to The Latehomecomer, by Kao Kalia Yang, this evening.  It's been keeping me company the past week or so while I've been driving, and then I couldn't put it down (so to speak) and brought it in the house the past couple nights to listen some more.  It is a beautiful, challenging, sad, and love-filled memoir of a young Hmong woman who was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and came with her family to the U.S. in 1987 when she was six years old.  I especially loved listening to her tell the story of her family; the relationships, the resourcefulness, the history... all of it came alive with her wonderful writing.  One of the things that struck me the most was that the author read the story herself.  Authors often do read their own work, but I realized about halfway through the book how amazing it was that she did this. She tells how she had great difficulty speaking English for many years after her family came to the U.S.; she would only speak in a whisper, or just nod or gesture, even though she was capable of speaking and she could understand spoken English and read just fine.  So it was a powerful statement of how much she had grown, and somehow healed from the traumatic events of her early years.  She is very honest about her feelings and some of the very difficult times she experienced. I got the impression that she was making a strong effort to find a balance in her storytelling, and it worked very well.  The story carried me away to places and events that were so very outside my own experience, but somehow the author recreated those events in a way that made them very vivid and real.  Her book touched me deeply; I don't know how else to put it.

(The only other book I have read about the Hmong people was The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman, which was also excellent but a very different kind of book, and from a vastly different perspective.  The Latehomecomer helped me to understand the people and events in this book so much better.)