Across the Mekong River is the story of a refugee family from Laos, who had to flee to the refugee camps in Thailand when the Vietnam war ended. The Communist regime hunted down their own people and killed those who fought on the side of the Americans. It is only thanks to their sponsorship by an American soldier that the family are permitted to resettle in America.
The story centres on daughter Nao’s struggles to bridge two opposing cultures. Her Hmong family believe women are subservient to men, whereas all Nao wants to do is to go to college and lead an independent life. Nao so desperately wants to fit in at school she calls herself Laura and hides this from her parents.
It is not exclusively written from Nao’s point-of-view as author Elaine Russell gives a voice to Nao’s mother Yer and her father Pao. Yer’s tale is of a paradise lost. Her beautiful homeland – a land of ‘gentle streams and green forests, ‘ has been invaded by a succession of foreigners – Thai, Khmer, French then Japanese. Pao, the patriarch in the family, left his fields to take up arms against the communists in the Vietnam War.
Nao, Pao and Yer are convincing characters who speak believable dialogue. Written in a compelling and convincing style, the author gives voice to all those displaced people who find themselves adrift in a newly adopted homeland, struggling to adapt to a new language and culture. Across the Mekong River is really the story of America.