The Unwanted: A Memoir
Most of what we know about Vietnam we have read in history books or have seen on TV documentaries. THE UNWANTED by Kien Nguyen is a passionate plea for understanding about the trials of growing up in a land you love, only to watch it become a dark and dangerous nightmare for reasons well beyond your control and to then be thrown into a new culture where your traditions mean nothing. THE UNWANTED is a difficult and beautiful memoir of one boy coming to terms with the injustice and unfairness that affected his life forever.
Nguyen's return to his home after the siege on Saigon to find the mansion he describes in the beginning of the book, the mighty center of his family life, in complete and utter disrepair, the iron gate smeared with feces and other horrors obvious and complete, is a painful rendering of before and after the war. THE UNWANTED eventually takes us into a prisoner's life, that of a boy-man arrested for simply being from a certain place at a certain time. The disintegration of his family's previous lifestyle and their struggle to build a new one in the face of a new government and ripped-to-shreds culture will stir any reader's heart.
Nguyen gives us the details of his life in a rational, straightforward voice that is all the more haunting for its lack of pretension and drama. To imagine these same things happening to any of us would be most heinous and life-threatening. Nguyen's odyssey makes for compelling and emotional reading, and THE UNWANTED will make you turn page after page with each beat of your empathetic heart until you won't believe you've finished the whole thing. It's hard to put down.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on March 1, 2001