"We were walking on bloodied pavements where stepping on someone’s dead father’s arm and dead sister’s leg was unavoidable."

John Vo was born in Vietnam, the son of a seemingly indomitable woman, My Le. He, like some of his siblings, was the child of an American soldier stationed in their war-ravaged homeland. John, with light-colored hair, was singled out for teasing and torment. But My Le, the central figure in his recollections, always maintained her dignity and defended her brood. For some years My Le and Vo eked out a life together after three of his sisters were sent to the US by a charitable agency. Following a relatively stable period when his mother had employment, their lives crashed as the war became more frenzied. The two lived hand to mouth, were once imprisoned, and often victimized, but they were still lucky to be alive. After he completed high school, Vo had a chance to emigrate to the US, though it meant leaving behind his mother and two younger siblings. Later, the entire family would reunite after much searching for each of the author’s long-lost sisters.

The author’s poignant tale takes place against a background of ceaseless war. Vo writes in highly competent prose of his past after having pursued a successful career as a technician and gathered an American family. His accounts of constant danger and suffering are haunting. He starkly depicts the determination of his mother who battled continual odds to keep her family safe. It is clear from his memories that he was forced to mature beyond his years in order to stay alive in the midst of death, terror, and despair. He aptly paints a vignette of his condition when he recalls that at one point, “Hunger was a luxury.” It is easy to forget wars gone by, but Vo was determined to faithfully record his courageous mother’s efforts to survive and protect her children even as millions of their countrymen perished.

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