cover image Where Rivers Part: A Story of My Mother’s Life

Where Rivers Part: A Story of My Mother’s Life

Kao Kalia Yang. Atria, $28.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-9821-8529-9

“I wanted to claim the legacy of the woman I came from,” Yang (Somewhere in the Unknown World) writes in the introduction to this gripping and compassionate account of her mother’s escape from war-torn Laos. Her mother, Tswb, was born to a Hmong family in Laos in 1961. In 1975, after the end of the Vietnam War, communist forces began hunting down Hmong families because some had been recruited by the CIA to fight alongside American forces during the war. A teenage Tswb and her family first sought safety in Laotian jungles, then in Thai refugee camps. By 1980, Tswb had resettled in Bangkok, where Yang was born. In its second half, the narrative shifts to Minnesota, where Yang and her parents relocated in 1987. Living in a housing project, working in factories, and attending school at night, Tswb felt “rendered invisible” by her inability to provide more than the basic necessities for Yang and her five siblings. When Tswb’s mother died in Laos circa 2020, Tswb returned to reconnect with the land and people she left behind. Yang writes much of the account from Tswb’s perspective, giving tender voice to her struggles with the competing demands of family duty and personal fulfillment. The results are illuminating, uplifting, and difficult to forget. Agent: Anna Stein, ICM Partners. (Mar.)