The Latehomecomer: A book review

Today I posted this review on the NWP ELL Network Discussion Listserv, and I want to make sure those of you who are not on this listserv have a chance to learn of this book as well.   It is truly a special book:

Today I’d like to tell you about an eloquent book I read recently about the Hmong.  For the past several years I’ve looked for such a book, one that would inform people who don’t know the story of the Hmong.  I also wanted it for my students who were born and raised in the U.S., as well as for those students for whom Ban Vinai Refugee camp is a distant memory.  Many of my Hmong students have expressed their wish to know more about their own history and culture.  There are other books that have been written about this group of people, but this is the one I have wished for.  It is called The Latehomecomer, by Kao Kalia Yang.  What distinguishes this book, apart from the beauty of the writing, is that the author is Hmong and the story is that of her family: her beloved grandmother, her parents, siblings and herself.

Beginning with the first paragraph she had my undivided attention:  “From the day that she was born she was taught that she was Hmong by the adults around her.  As a baby learning to talk her mother and father often asked, “What are you?” and the right answer was always, “I am Hmong.”  It wasn’t a name or a gender, it was a people.  When she noticed that they lived in a place that felt like it had an invisible fence made of men with guns who spoke Thai and dressed in  colors of old rotting leaves, she learned that Hmong meant contained.”

The story begins in Laos, during the Vietnam War.  She tells of her parents efforts to escape the certain death that awaited if they stayed, and their capture and imprisonment while en route.  The story continues through their crossing the Mekong River to Thailand, and their life in Ban Vinai Refugee Camp. where the author was born.  It continues with their relocation to the United States and their efforts to fit into their new life in Minnesota.  She deftly weaves into the story historical information with cultural practices.  The writing keeps the reader gripped from the first paragraph to the end.   Every few pages I found myself putting little post-its to mark memorable lines.  (Which was of questionable value since I had borrowed it from the library and had to take them out prior returning it!)

I will end by saying that if you are interested in the Hmong, or if you wish to add an excellent resource to your multicultural library, take a look at this book!  You won’t be disappointed.

I will let Kalia’s words end this review:

“I dream that one day soon my book will be published, and it will show the world one more way into words. I dream that this book will have the power to give value to all the dreams I’ve collected along the way, not just my own, but those that were planted inside of me by my grandmother, my people, and the hard lives we’ve had all along history’s forsaken trails. I dream the writing dream: to live in language forever, to unravel the human story and grant it the power to change human life.”

To read the rest of this essay go to:

To visit the author’s webpage:

The Latehomecomer

Kao Kalia Yang

Coffee House Press

27 North Fourth Street, Suite 400

Minneapolis, MN 55401


2 thoughts on “The Latehomecomer: A book review

  1. heyjude57 says:

    In the last chapter of the Latehomecomer. What captures me in this book, as opposed to >The Spirit Catches You< is the universals of humanity –the love of the grandmother, sisterly rivalry, etc., that Yang describes.

    What was most disturbing is that the killing of war and the incarceration in a refugee camp becomes the routine way of life for her family. The hope of many Hmong families is to die a natural death, not a death inflicted by war.

  2. lynnjake says:

    Thanks for this response, Judy. Your insight is good. It has to be so heartbreaking to have their sons dying in the street wars, just when they feel like they’ve found safety.

    I hope you liked the book.

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