Monday, February 23, 2015

The Latehomecomer: An Hmong Family Memoir by Kai Kalia Yang

I love when Laura introduces me to a good book. We have had books as a part of our relationship for as long as she has had eyes and ears. We started with my reading to her from The Real Mother Goose just days after she was born. Pat the Bunny, Goodnight Moon, and Meet Peter Rabbit followed. Advance the time machine 26 years, and she texts to me that I would enjoy The Latehomecomer: An Hmong Family Memoir by Kai Kalia Yang. She is right, of course. She knows her dad.

Laura probably came upon the story because she lives in Minneapolis, and there are many of the Hmong in the Twin Cities area. Among them are the Yangs who came, as did many other Hmong, via refugee camps in Thailand in the 1980s. The author was born in one of those camps, Ban Vinai, and was only six years when the family was transferred first to an orientation camp and then flew to Minnesota. Fear of the journey and new places, as well as the wonder of modern America, impressed themselves on her.

The Latehomecomer is as much about Yang's paternal grandmother, parents, and sister Dawb as about Yang herself and is truly a family memoir, as she tells what she has been able to learn about her maternal grandparents whom she never met. In the closing chapters, which recount her grandmother's final months and three-day funeral, she is even attentive to the reactions of her uncles and aunts. It is a remarkably close family thanks to the grandmother who held them together through the Vietnam War, the subsequent genocide, refugee camps, and the move to America (which she initially resisted.)

Published by a small nonprofit press with grant monies, The Latehomecomer has succeeded in getting into nearly 800 libraries. Even if your library does not have a copy, it should be able to get one easily. A few libraries even have it as an audiobook. I am pleased for the first time author who works with immigrants needing writing and translating. She has also made a film about Hmong Americans. I hope we hear more from her.

Yang, Kao Kalia. The Latehomecomer: An Hmong Family Memoir. Coffee House Press, 2008. 277p. ISBN 9781566892087.

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