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The Unwanted: A Memoir of Childhood Paperback – April 8, 2002

4.7 out of 5 stars 122 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The son of a wealthy Vietnamese woman and an American businessman, Nguyen was nearly eight when Saigon fell to the Vietcong. For the next decade he and his family endured hardships brought on by the privileged lives they had enjoyed under the capitalist regime. Although his writing lacks the lyricism of recent memoirs like The Liar's Club or Angela's Ashes, Nguyen's voice is clear and strong, and he is adept at capturing both the broad sweep of life under the Vietcong and the peculiarities of growing up in a colorful and emotionally dysfunctional family during a jarring and vicious revolution. Perhaps the most engaging aspect of his memoir is its portrayal of the ironies that ensue when the old order collapses and the social hierarchy is turned upside down. At one point, Nguyen's mother, imperious and a virulent snob, is called before the newly installed communist leadership only to encounter her former gardener, a man she barely acknowledged before the revolution but who now has the power to strip her of all she owns. For the most part, though, this memoir reminds us of life's many undeserved injustices. Nguyen and his half-brother, Jimmy, who is also Amerasian, pay a particularly high price for the accident of their genealogy, enduring the scorn of their countrymen, especially the communists. At 18, the author and his family emigrated to the United States, where he now works as a dentist. With the purely personal goal of "healing" himself, Nguyen concludes by hoping that his narrative will also help other Amerasians born during the Vietnam War mourn their "lost childhoods." (Mar. 20)Forecast: This is part of a growing literature of memoirs about the horrors in Vietnam after the fall of Saigon. If well reviewed, this should sell well to readers with an interest in that conflict and its aftermath. In addition, film rights have been sold to the producer of Driving Miss Daisy, which could enhance sales down the road.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

This is a powerful, compelling memoir of an Amerasian boy's experience in Communist Vietnam from 1975, when the United States troops pulled out, until his family's migration to the United States in 1985. The illegitimate son of an American G.I. and a wealthy Vietnamese woman, Nguyen is now a dentist in New York City. Initially, he wrote this book as a kind of personal catharsis, but he decided to publish it as a memorial to the thousands of Amerasians who have suffered and died. His story, which recalls The Killing Fields, recounts a descent from wealth and comfort into the horrors of Communist rule. In painful detail, he writes of poverty, suffering, and torture, much of it inflicted on him precisely because of his Amerasian roots. Ultimately, his tale is one of extraordinary courage and human will, for Nguyen and his mother held their family together in the face of great hardships. Beautifully written and inspirational, this memoir is highly recommended.
- A.O. Edmunds, Ball State Univ., Muncie, IN
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 343 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (April 8, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316284610
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316284615
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (122 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #64,724 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I wanted to read this book because the author was born in the same city I was born in, Nha Trang. I was curious to find out what happened after the Vietnam War ended, especially since my family never talks about their own experiences there. After reading this memoir, I was deeply moved by its honest portrayal of the day-to-day life for the people who lived under the Communists. At first, I myself did not believe that these events actually happened. Only when I asked my own family, did it occur to me that the events in this memoir are a vivid painting of how it really was living in Vietnam in the years that followed the war. Because of this novel and my curiosity, my family has been pouring me with endless amounts of stories about their experiences, most of which are exactly what the author of The Unwanted talks about. Therefore, I highly recommend this book, particulary to those, like myself, who might be curious to know what happened in Vietnam after the war ended.
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Format: Paperback
I just finished Kien Nguyen's The Unwanted and have a hard time remembering when a book affected me so much. The story is told straight, with little reflective pondering or self-reflection, which I found unusual and even more distressing because of it. Most memoirs I have read are heavily doused in rationalizations about the author's life, indulgent in their explanations or at least lengthy in their self-interpretation. Nguyen's voice is much clearer, almost factual. In the recall of his childhood as an Amerasian child in the newly Communist Viet Nam of the 1970's, he spares details neither on the pettiness of bureaucracy, on brutal family betrayal, nor on his own actions. If anything, he glosses over his own psychological torment and emphasizes the physical and social torments he and his family endured, leaving the reader to judge for himself how these events should be interpreted.

I am lucky to have visited Vietnam in the late 90's and stayed in households there while researching for a documentary being made about an extended family. There are hundreds of thousands of stories like Nguyen's, varying in degrees of severity. I have heard some of these myself and seen the evidence of ruined lives and a ruined country. Those who tried to escape, Amerasian and just plain tormented Vietnamese alike, endured tales of suffering that once heard, you hope with all your heart you will never have to hear again in this world. Human cruelty exists. In extremes. Courageous writers like Kien Nguyen play an enormously valuable role in reminding those with privilege especially that we all choose to make of that fact what we will.
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Format: Hardcover
Once in awhile, a really good book that comes along to haunt me for days. This is the case with Kien Nguyen's memoir "The Unwanted." The book is very sad, dark, and disturbing from beginning to end. The only thing that prevents me from falling into an abyss of despair is a glimmer of hope in the final chapter of the book when his family was boarding an airplane to leave Vietnam. It is not an easy read. But it is a worthy read; it is one of the best books I have read about Vietnam. His book reminds me of Jung Chang's monumental work "The Wild Swans" and Nien Cheng's haunting memoir "Life and Death in Shanghai." It reminds me of an extraordinarily well-written and moving article on the Wall Street Journal published in 1999 to mark the 20 years anniversary of the fall of Pol Pot in Cambodia... The book also reminds me of my own experience last year walking through the prison cells and death chambers at the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp which was left intact as it was at the end of WWII... As I was standing there, I had flashbacks of my own experience in a Communist prison. All of these experiences force me think about the meanings of Fascism, Communism, human mistreatment, and human dignity. Kien Nguyen's memoir also reminds me of my own best friends in first grade - Amerasian twin brothers... Kien Nguyen's book has provided me an answer. Having been jailed at a prison in Kien Nguyen's hometown and having left Vietnam through the ODP program, I was particularly impressed with his accurate descriptions of the prison, the building, the people, and the troubles one had to go through in order to leave Vietnam. I have a great admiration for Kien who has the courage to write this book that really captures the essence of life in Vietnam during those years.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
A friend of mine recommended this book to me. Once I started reading it, it's hard to put it down. The author (Kien Nguyen) wrote this with all of his heart. I am a Vietnamese-American currently live in Texas, I know how it was in Vietnam after the fall of Saigon in 1975, even though admittedly I had a more pleasant childhood than Kien.
I strongly recommend this book to everyone. To Kien, if you happen to read this review, I know I could speak for many other Vietnameses currently live in the states: thank you for writing this remarkable story of your life in VN!
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Format: Paperback
Written in a spare and straightforward style that suits the horrific and lush backdrop of post-fall-of-Saigon war years, The Unwanted is Nguyen's story of his childhood as a hated Amerasian, the illegitimabe child of an American GI and a wealthy Vietnamese woman. Focusing on the decade after Saigon fell and ending with his emigration to the United States when he was 18, the author documents the crazy shifts in his life from one of privilege before the age of 8, to one of pathos and fear under the Communists, when the whole social order was reversed and his family was at risk of losing everything, including their lives. Now a dentist in the US, Nguyen initially penned his memoir as a self-healing attempt to overcome the many scars of his difficult childhood. It is fortunate for his readers that he decided to seek publication.
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