Monday, April 27, 2009

This Week's Podcast Focuses on an Inspiring Journey

Please join us this Friday for our weekly podcast when our conversation will be with new author Dao Huynh. Ms. Huynh will be discussing her new book An Unknown Journey, in which she shares the story of a girl (also named Dao) who leaves war-torn Vietnam to discover a new life in America. From Dao's escape as one of the thousands of "boat people" to escape war in the 1970s to her yearlong stay in Malaysia as she waited for passage to her life of freedom to her struggles with a new language and culture once she reaches America, the story is one that is sure to evoke emotion from its readers. And, while Dao Huynh writes An Unknown Journey as a work of fiction, she does share that much of her life story can be found within its pages.

Ms. Huynh believes that An Unknown Journey will be particularly meaningful to others who fled Vietnam on those boats, the children of parents who left war-torn countries, or immigrants of any circumstance who have had to adjust to a new life.

Click here to purchase An Unknown Journey.

Title of Document: Book Review
Book Title: An Unknown Journey
Author: Dao Huynh
ISBN Number: 978-1-4327-3083-3
Genre and Target Market: fiction; memoir format; culture
Publication Date: 2009
Book Length in Pages: 219

I was a history major in college, and I have always had a particular interest in reading the stories of ordinary people who lived through extraordinary times. We all know that Marie Antoinette exclaimed, “Let them eat cake,” but how did the mother of hungry children feel when she heard those words? What was going through the average New Yorker’s mind as he looked up and saw a plane flying full-speed in the World Trade Center? Young girls around the world are fascinated by The Diary of Anne Frank because she loved her family and had crushes on boys, but this average teenager had to face a terrifying reality. When I am presented with a book that shares one person’s journey through a historic moment in time, I am automatically drawn to the story. Hopefully, I can transport myself into imagining how the characters must have felt going through these experiences. An Unknown Journey by Dao Huynh is a new work of fiction that provides insight we could not get from anyone else.

Dao Huynh came to the United States from Vietnam two decades ago, and she has used her knowledge of both cultures to develop a lead character that, I believe, is based on the author herself. Huynh tells the story of a girl named Dao, one of the thousands of “boat people” who escaped from Vietnam in the 1970s. Before reading An Unknown Journey, I shared the same images of Vietnam and that era of history as most Americans. I think of the girl who was photographed running from her burning village, the protests on the home front which tore our country apart, and the throngs of Vietnamese who tried to grab a place on helicopters as American forces fled Saigon. But, I must admit, I did not know a lot about the daily lives of the Vietnamese people or the struggles those who managed to leave faced during their travels and after reaching the United States.

The author lays out a vibrant description of life in South Vietnam, sharing Dao’s desire for a great education that will open doors and how this goal contrasts with a sense of duty that she feels to stay close to home and care for her family. Dao has a typical childhood, filled with changing friendships, school work, and family tensions. This world is turned upside-down, however, by the Communists’ victory following the departure of the Americans. Dao’s father is sent to a re-education camp and her brother whisks her away when presented with the chance to flee their fallen homeland over dangerous waters. The riveting chapters of the book then begin, with details concerning the months Dao spent at a refugee camp in Malaysia (where she reunited with a younger sister who had escaped a month earlier) and then the experiences she had as a new immigrant to the United States with limited English skills and a set of values very different than those promoted by the culture around her.

The most stunning component of An Unknown Journey is the details that Dao Huynh is able to incorporate into her storytelling. She recreates seemingly commonplace conversations with childhood friends, shares a thorough description of the aid workers in Malaysia, and mentions the songs that pass through Dao’s mind when remembering a college love with whom the relationship was left unrequited. I could sense the fear and doubt Dao must have felt when making the decision to step on the ill-equipped boat and leave her family behind in Vietnam, perhaps forever. I could feel the desperation she experienced when she wanted to learn English and searched for support on an overwhelming college campus. By providing such specific information about her life, Huynh allows her readers to immerse themselves fully in this adventure.

An Unknown Journey is a captivating new novel written in memoir format by Dao Huynh that likely reflects the experience of many immigrants who have left challenging circumstances and made the choice to resettle in America. The author is a gifted storyteller who realizes that some of the details that may initially seem mundane are really the essential pieces that create a complete picture for her audience. The entire book is a powerful testament to determination, the importance of education, and the love of a family. As Huynh reminds us as An Unknown Journey reaches its conclusion, there is no end to our travels. In fact, she leaves us as Dao is contemplating a decision that could take her down two very different paths. Perhaps we will be fortunate to read more about this amazing journey in the future.

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