Sunday, April 17, 2011

Book Review - The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir by Kao Kalia Yang

Title: The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir
Author: Kao Kalia Yang 
Year: 2008
Page: 274
Genre: Non-fiction - Memoir

FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from
Destined to touch every reader's heart, this riveting memoir parallels thousands of untold Hmong stories.

First Sentence:
From the day that she was born, she was taught that she was Hmong by the adults around her.

My Thoughts:

Why this book?
  • Book club March read
First thought:
  • Learned something new
Cover Art:
  • Not the most attractive cover design, but relevant to the book
  •  Not something I would have chosen (is there enough such a word?). I like having something about "home" in the title but I think it could have a more interesting title.
  • Some parts of the writing were a bit too slow and flowery for me. Some other reviews said her style was lyrical or poetic - well, usually it isn't really a style I like... 

  • The prologue was written in 3rd person, and I thought it would have been better without it. I usually am picky about prologue though because it usually gives away too much (I know it's supposed to be a hook, but I don't want to know the ending before I even start the book!) In this case, since it is a memoir, a 3rd person / poetry like prologue just seemed a bit out of place (and didn't wow me. If I were to pick up this book and read the first page to see whether I'd borrow/buy this book, I probably would have put it back.)  
  • I enjoyed the first half of the book - it was more about the author's grandparents, parents and uncle/aunts, and her early life in Laos/Thailand. In Minnesota (MN), there is a large Hmong population but I didn't know a lot about their culture, so it was a rather interesting read
  • The second half of the book focused on their life in MN and more of the author's own story (as opposed to her families in the earlier chapters). The pace slowed here, and the last few chapters on her grandmother dragged on. I understood she wanted to pay tribute to her grandmother who played a significant role in the book and in the author's life, but the pacing was just a bit off. 
  • Some details were repeated throughout the book and they got redundant. I supposed if you are a slow reader, it is a good reminder, but since I finish this in a few days, it might easier for me to pick up on the repetitiveness 
  • The author also included some Hmong legends in the story - the Tiger and Yer story was a bit creepy though - no offense!
  • There were also some plot holes but probably could have been explained easily - e.g. if the Van Vinai Refugee Camp in Thailand was in such poor conditions, and the refugees had no jobs... whom did they borrow the camera from (since there were pictures from that period in the book)? Where did they get matching outfit for the children? Also later on when they lived in MN, they were able to connect with some relatives back in Laos - but how? Since Hmong people do not have a country they could call theirs, and they lived all over in Laos, Thailand, Vietnam etc?

  • The grandmother was a memorable character
  • While she was not mentioned a lot, the author's older sister Dawb also left an impression with her love for her little sister. It would be interesting to hear from Dawb's perspective
  • I could identify what the children (the author and her siblings) had to go through when settling in a new country - adults would tell you to study hard, and then the children would think why the adults didn't study hard themselves so they won't have to rely on the children to become interpreters and translates? Dawb, as a 5th grader, had to put a resume together for her parents, and told them "to try" was not good enough on a resume, and that they needed to sound confident. 

  • I wish the last few chapters of the book were written differently 
  • Definitely heart-wrenching to read what Hmong people had to go through during the Vietnam war
  • Adjusting their lifestyle in the MN wasn't easy either - while I did not come from a third world country like they did and was used to modern convenience like a flushing toilets, the inner struggle is familiar
What I Learned:
  • I didn't know much about Hmong and especially their role in the Vietnam war, and why there is such a large Hmong population here in MN. I now have a much better understanding
  • I wish the captions of the pictures in the book were matched to the pictures - instead of having a list of the captions on one page, and you ended up having to flip back and forth to match the caption to the pictures
Read this Author again?
  • Potentially, depends on the topic.

"Mother, you gave birth to me. You wanted to give me a chance at life. That life was ruined by the war. Now I have two girls. What would happen to me in America is not as important as what would happen to my girls here. You love me. I love my daughters as you love me, Mother." (p79)

Overall Rating:
4 Stars. Definitely learned more about Hmong. 

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