Aug 17, 2012

Book Review: Across the Mekong River by Elaine Russell

Title: Across the Mekong River: A Novel
Author: Elaine Russell
Paperback, August 6. 2012; CreateSpace
Genre: historical fiction
We lived in the mountains of Xieng Khouang Province, in the middle of northern Laos. A beautiful place of gentle streams and green forests. On a clear day from the peak above our village I could see the broad Plain of Jars with its ancient stone jars, some as tall as two men. Lao villages and flooded rice paddies dotted the valley. Beyond were the houses and Buddhist temple of Xieng Khouang town. We built our Hmong villages on the steep hillsides, working our fields and tending our animals. Only our land mattered. (ch. 2)
Book description:  Nou Lee and her Hmong family escaped in 1978 from Laos in Southeast Asia after the Communist takeover there. The story follows the Lees from a refugee camp in Thailand to a new life in Minnesota and eventually California. Family members struggle to survive in a strange foreign land, haunted by the scars of war and loss of family.

Across the Mekong River paints a vivid picture of the Hmong immigrant experience, exploring family love, sacrifice, and the resiliency of the human spirit to overcome tragic circumstances. (publisher's description).

Comments: Across the Mekong River is a striking narrative that follows a Hmong family escaping from their home in war torn Laos, to refugee camps in Thailand, and then to the United States as sponsored refugees. It follows the family's fortune in the U.S., where the young daughter Nou grows up American and defies her parent's wish to live a traditional life and to agree to an arranged marriage to another from the Hmong tribe.

The book tackles the history of the Hmong refugee experience in the United States, which they helped during the war in Laos. The novel also candidly discusses the problems of adjustment to a new language and culture and to the younger generation growing up more Western than the older generation knew how to handle.

The book is valuable for its historical detail of the Hmong population, their war experiences, and their long journey to settle in other countries after the Pathet Lao Communist takeover in Laos in the 1970s. I was impressed that the author interviewed many Laotians here and in Laos about their experiences and helped to add this book to their records, though in fiction, of the intensity and quality of their struggles.

Visit the author's website at
Across the Mekong River,was a finalist in the Carolina Wren Press 2010 Doris Bakwin Award for adult novels; the Maui Writer’s Conference 2003 Rupert Hughes Prose Writing Competition; and the Focus on Writers 2001 Friends of the Sacramento Library Awards.

Thanks to the author for a review copy of this book.


Harvee said...

I am always amazed at the history of the Hmong people of Laos and their history of helping the U.S. during the war in Southeast Asia. Elaine Russell has tried to bring this into focus in her book.

Mason Canyon said...

This sounds like an incredible story and one that would also be great for students to have in their history classes. Taking a look at the 'human' side of history is something we don't always do. Enjoyed your review.

Thoughts in Progress

Julia Drake said...

Thanks for this great review, Harvee! So glad you enjoyed the book too. I also very much appreciated the historical detail and emotional complexity of the characters' experiences in the book.

Suko said...

I also enjoyed your review of this book. It sounds interesting and informative.

Abuelita said...

I read and loved this book as well. Great Review!

The Bookworm said...

This book does sound like an interesting and well researched read. Great review!

Staci said...

This one sounds like a book to read. I really know next to nothing about that time and it's always interesting to see how families deal with their children that were born in the US and have different ideas of how they will live their lives.

Ryan said...

Thanks for this review. I traveled that area of Asia in 2005 and I love reading about it still. I'll be on the lookout for this one.

Zibilee said...

I think what is most interesting to me about this book, other than the obvious setting and time period, is the way that the older generation must watch the younger generation make changes that they don't approve of. It's always fascinating to watch the older set tangle with the younger set when it comes down to things like this.

Anna said...

I was impressed by this book, too, and thought it was really well done. I'm so glad to see you enjoyed it.

Booksnyc said...

What an interesting story - thanks for linking the review to the Immigrant Stories Challenge!

Steph said...

This sounds like a book I would love to read. I need to add it to my list. :-)

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