At its surface, The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, by Kao Kalia Yang, is the story of her family’s journey from Laos and the wars in Southeast Asia, to Thailand and its refugee camps, to Minnesota. At its heart, the book is the story of a search for home.
The story does not begin in an idyllic homeland, since Laos is not the Hmong homeland. In this sense, the family story begins in the middle of a larger story of Hmong history, in which Yang’s family is an example. At the same time, her depictions of her family members are deeply personal. She treats her family with love and dignity. One of my favorite passages is when she talks about the children in her family:
Each time a baby was born, we went to see it, and the adults talked about how they were fortunate to have babies that were born in America, not in Laos or Thailand– places where so many Hmong people had died. They would never understand why American people talked about how expensive babies were and how poor people shouldn’t have so many. How it was such smart people couldn’t understand that the best way to live life was to give life.
Why is it good summer reading? Because it’s engrossing. Yang cares enough about the characters to make the reader care about the characters. And its not one of those memoirs that goes on too long and gets boring as the protagonist gets older. The language is engaging and fresh but not overly complicated. Check it out.