Vinh Chung was born into a Chinese family living in North Vietnam during the Vietnam war. This tiny country was fought over by the French, the Viet Cong, the Chinese and Russian communists. The Chung family owned a successful rice business, but as the war went on, almost everything became government property. They joined the flood of people fleeing by boat, in search of a country that would allow them in.
There are three parts to the book. The first covers life in North Vietnam, and Vinh’s grandparents and parents. It helps you understand how important family is in their culture. The second part tells of the treacherous boat trip that they barely survived. The last part is about Vinh and his family in their new country.
Before reading this book, I had no idea how desperate and dangerous the journey out of Vietnam was for the “boat people”. They left their country with little more than the clothes on their backs, and no sure destination. I cannot imagine the terrible conditions that would make these people rather die in the ocean than stay in their homeland. Their courage was amazing, and the miracles along the way almost unbelievable.
In the seclusion and anonymity of the South China Sea, the human heart was free to turn its darkest, and predators knew that even the worst atrocities could be hidden beneath the water. Those Thai pirates were trying to kill us just for the pleasure of doing it, which seems like an incomprehensible thing for one human being to do to another. But refugees were not human beings; when they left their home, no list was made of who they were, when they left, or where they were headed. No nation mourned their departure, and no country awaited their arrival. There was death at sea but no death toll; there was heartbreak but no history. Refugees were unwanted, unclaimed, and unnamed – invisible people. They were just some country’s former problem, and the moment the problem was gone, they were forgotten – out of sight, out of mind.