Narrative non-fiction is generally the only type of non-fiction we review here at Wonderland, 'cause we're all about the story. This novel isn't non-fiction, despite the jacket copy calling it an authentic immigrant story. Those writing historical fiction often tell the stories of others, for various reasons, so though my first impulse is to read a novel written by someone who actually experienced the event in question, I read a bit more about the author, who, I discovered, wrote this novel based on the story of a woman she knew, a fellow teacher.
Other books which touch on this piece of Vietnam and the Mekong Delta's history are Laura Manivong's ESCAPING THE TIGER, wherein she tells her husband's story of escaping to a Thai refugee camp; LAST AIRLIFT: A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War (and its companion novel, One Step at a Time: A Vietnamese Child Finds Her Way), Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch non-fiction account, and the well-received New York Times bestseller, Newbery Honor, and winner of the National Book Award book, INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN, by Thanhha Lai, where the author tells of her personal experiences during the fall of Saigon.
Summary: Mai is fourteen, sheltered and educated. Life for a Vietnamese girl of Chinese ancestry has been reasonably easy - but South Viet Nam has fallen to the Communists, and everything is in chaos. Already, Mai has had to leave her beautiful home and hide in her grandmother's village. Teens are being impressed into the Communist military, and her father is anxious to get her older brother out of the country and to America, where his older brother lives. But, when Mai's brother falls ill the night before their boat leaves, she is put on the boat in his place. Terror, seasickness, limited space, air and food are only the beginning of her journey. In America, the streets are paved with gold, she knows. If she can just hold on until they get to Chicago, she will go to school and be important - and the Communists will all be like a bad, bad dream.
But circumstances twist and change. Mai's luck gets worse and worse and worse -- and soon, it's all she can do to survive from day to day - but survive she must, for this was her father's last word to her. Only with the help of friends, a half-American boy named Kien, and sheer grit will Mai ever hope to make it through.
The cover of this book is evocative -- symbolic -- and stunning. Though Mai never has to actually climb over barbed wire literally, metaphorically she had to drag herself through barbed wire to reach safety, as over and over security was wrenched from her grasp. A great book for readers seeking stories of immigrant experiences, this Mai's tale is easy to read, though painful in places. It celebrates the spirit of those coming to America with hopes and dreams, and hopefully will help young readers empathize with those from war-torn nations.
I received my copy of this book courtesy of Flux. After March 8th, you can find OUT OF THE DRAGON'S MOUTH by This Author at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!