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The Unwanted

The UnwantedBy Kien Nguyen

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Review by Pat Palmer

The reviewer, Pat Palmer, is the mother of five grown children from Korea--3 of them Amerasian--and two from Vietnam.

Kien Nguyen, born in 1967 to a Vietnamese mother and her white American lover, was one of the unlucky half-American kids left behind when the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam in 1975 at the time of the Communist takeover. Kien, his mom and his younger brother Jimmy, also Amerasian, made it to the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon on April 28, waiting for the return of a helicopter that never made it back for them. The next ten years Kien and his family endured hardship after hardship and discrimination as "half-breeds" and the "prostitute" who gave birth to them. (When their mother was directed" to publicly confess her past sins against the Communist party and the new government, she considered which was the lesser of two evils she could admit to--being a lowly prostitute or an arrogant capitalist, a high crime in the eyes of the new regime. Thus the former bank owner said, "A prostitute is exactly what I was.") Ten years later Kien and Jimmy finally were able to leave Vietnam, thanks to the passage of the Amerasian Bill allowing Amerasian children and their families to emigrate to the USA. Kien and Jimmy were fortunate to be able to both get out of Vietnam where they were "unwanted" and to remain with their birthmother. For many other Vietnamese Amerasians, it was one or the other -- be adopted (before 4/30/75) or stay in Vietnam where they faced harsh discrimination, often being abandoned by their mothers and many of them receiving little or no education. Kien tells of a failed attempt to escape Vietnam when his mother was willing to give him up in the hope that he could be free from the discrimination and poverty he experienced in his homeland. (His mother was not able to find work because of her "crime" of consorting with Americans.)

After coming to America Kien Nguyen tried to put the horrors of his childhood in Vietnam behind him and live in the present, as his grandfather had advised him in their last conversation. But after graduating from New York University College of Dentistry in June 1998, more than fourteen years after he came to America, "the nightmares I had kept at bay during the hectic years of my education returned to plague me with renewed intensity... My reason for writing this book at first was purely personal. I just wanted to heal myself. But, as the story progressed, I thought more and more about the other Amerasians I had encountered. I recalled the sadness of their desperate lives, which I had both witnessed and heard described in my early years. As dark as my memoir may be, it is not unique by any means. It's estimated that more than fifty-thousand Amerasian children shared my fate, or worse. Their stories were all too common ones of terror and repression, abuse and neglect, strength, and ultimately--for the lucky ones--survival. I kept writing in hopes that these innocent victims' lost childhoods might finally be mourned, and their buried secrets at last revealed."

I want to recommend this book to everyone with an interest in what happened in Vietnam after 1975, when the country was shut off from the West for years, and especially what happened to the Amerasian children fathered by our military and civilians working for the military and then left behind when the United States hastily left Vietnam in 1975.

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