By Caroline Vu
Deux Voiliers Publishing
Reviewed by Alex Binkley
There now are more refugees and displaced persons around the world than at any time since the end of the Second World War. Images of cars and boats of desperate people fleeing religious or territorial conflicts are regular occurrences in newscasts.
The danger and fear these people face until they reach safety and a chance for a new life is the underlying current of Palawan Story, a novel by Montreal writer Caroline Vu, who left Vietnam as a child. Palawan was a refugee camp in the Philippines for thousands of Vietnamese who fled the Communist takeover of the southern part of the country in the 1970s.
The fortunate ones like Vu's protagonist, Kim Nguyen, were able to create a new life elsewhere. In a case of mistaken identity, Kim is adopted by an American family and becomes a medical student in Montreal. But Kim is haunted by memories of her past and unable to find out what has happened to her parents and sister, Kim visits Vietnamese communities in California and returns to Palawan and eventually Vietnam to look for them and to understand what actually happened in her past. While there is much disappointment, she can finally separate fact and fiction and get on with her life with a loving and supportive boyfriend and her adoptive family.
Palawan Story is a personal, at times raw, account of life. It works on both the intensely personal level as Kim struggles and obsesses with her fears and her memories. She painfully works her way through them. The writer clearly describes the power of memory, in the absence of facts, to shape or distort our lives. In the process, she also delivers the reader a powerful message about the hell people go through trying to escape war zones in the Middle East, the Ukraine or Asia. Or the boatloads of refuges who drown when the rickety vessels they have paid to take them to safety sink.
Caroline Vu will be launching Palawan Story in Ottawa, Paris, the UK and Costa Rica in June, July and August 2014. Visit the Deux Voiliers Publishing's events page for details on these and other upcoming events. http://www.deuxvoilierspublishing.com/#!dvp-news-events/cg5v