I had been meaning to read “The Latehomecomer” by Kao Kalia Yang for some time now, as I had heard great things about it. Recently my Grandma was given a copy and allowed me to borrow it, which I’m glad she did.
I’ve always heard bits and pieces of stories of what the Hmong people had to endure while in the jungles of Laos, but I’ve never read it from beginning to end. In the Latehomecomer, I felt like I was put in the middle of it all and was able to see for myself just some of the tragic things Hmong families went through just to find a safe haven. Very eye opening for this reader.
The novel begins with some background on the Secret War, but then to me it wove itself into a sort of love story as Kao’s Father Bee Yang and her Mother Chue Moua’s paths somehow crosses during the most unexpected of time, a time of such uncertainty for the Hmong. I should also add that Kao does a wonderful job of giving background information on both her Mother’s and Father’s family before she gets into the story of her parents.
As Bee Yang comes upon this woman he finds so striking, the woman too shy to take notice moves along. Unwilling to give up, Bee finds this woman and they forge a bond and continue to see each other. Eventually they marry, but at a large cost to Chue, as she has to give up her family, more importantly, her mother. This is a true sacrifice in life, not like a lot of the menial ones we give up today.
The story moves along as the families have to outwit the Laos soldiers who are trying to hunt down any and all the Hmong they can capture. The men would surely be killed, because they were considered a threat. Eventually the family is able to make it to Thailand and to the So Kow Toe Refugee Camp. Now, there is a lot that happens between that time, but I do not want to reveal to much, as I truly urge you to read it on your own.
During the next few chapters, we are given insights on life in the refugee camp. Obviously it was better then being pursued, like preys, in the jungles by Laotian soldiers, but life still was rough for the families confined in those walls. Kao’s descriptions and ability to make the reader see in their mind what the conditions are like are amazing. I never felt like I needed more information, as it was all there for me to see.
After years in the camp(s) it’s finally decided that the family would move to America, a decision that is found to be unacceptable by Bee’s Mother Youa, who has had to see another son move to America and doesn’t want to lose another. This is very understandable after reading what the family had to do to stay together. After months of preparation, which included schooling and learning the American culture, the family said their tearful goodbyes and made their way to America.
In America they are welcomed by other family members who have already began their new life. They would move in to McDonough homes and begin their schooling at North End Elementary, where I too received my Elementary education. As I read what Kao and her sister Dawb went through, it felt as if we went to two different schools. It had to be difficult to not only learning a new language, but a new culture and it seems like the teachers she dealt with didn’t make this easy on her or her sister. It makes me appreciate my experiences even more.
It’s not only the children of the family that have to adapt, but the parents are given the task of trying to find work with limited English or skills, but at the same time, willing to work hard if given the chance. We find out just what Bee and Chue do to help their family make it in America. Through it all they stayed together and know that they will live the American dream.
One thing that was hard about reviewing this book was trying not to reveal some of the wonderful and heartfelt stories that are told, so there are a lot I didn’t cover. There are great stories about survival, reunions, new arrivals, ghosts, death, and achievement. All and all, “The Latehomecomer” is a memoir that should be read by everyone, especially those who aren’t familiar with the Secret War and the journey the Hmong, as a people, made to get to the United States.
Kao Kaolia Yang’s attention to detail and ability to describe the setting is as good as any writer I’ve ever read and this is coming from someone that tries to read two books a week. I look forward to seeing where Kao goes next with her writing, as she’s one of the most talented writers I’ve read.
Once again, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of this great book. Help support Kao and share her family story with friends and family.
If you have any questions or comments in regards to this review, please contact me at [email protected] (Ryan Madland).