A good book transports us to another land. Although I love fiction, I’m increasingly moved by the power of narrative nonfiction, especially biography. Through the eyes of another, we experience lands far away, without ever leaving our homes. In so doing, we learn about political and social events that may have passed us by. For instance, Chai Ling’s Heart for Freedom opened to me China around the time of Tiananmen Square.
So I offer you a review of two real-life accounts that will enlarge your borders. One that moved me profoundly is Where the Wind Leads, a gripping narrative of a Chinese family living in Vietnam who were forced to leave their business and their home to escape communist oppression. They commissioned an old boat and sought refuge with nearly 300 others, but neighboring countries squawked under the weight of so-called compassion fatigue. The refugees ended up imprisoned on a beach in Malaysia, forced to march from one part of the beach to another, until they were deposited into derelict fishing boats, taken to the middle of the ocean, and left to die.
The author is Vinh Chung, one of the family’s sons, who recounts the many miracles that eventually brought the family to safety and a new home in Arkansas. He’s a sensitive narrator who explains Asian customs and traditions while detailing his family’s coming to faith in the Creator God, as revealed through Jesus. Through his story he shows the value of family, community, elders, education, perseverance, hope and faith. He also reveals the ugly side of discrimination and racism. One to read, ponder and pass to friends and family.
The other book is Greg Valerio’s Making Trouble, how he fought out of poverty and meaninglessness while creating the first line of fairly traded jewellery in the UK. His story of exposing corruption reveals the dark side of capitalism, when profits are prized more than people or the environment. It’s a David-and-Goliath story of one who couldn’t close his mouth against the wrongs he witnessed – not only the oppression of the workers, but the rape of the land. His model of creating a pure line of jewellery – with completely traceable gold and diamonds – shows how one man with perseverance and vision can effect change.
The book recounts an important movement for social change, but the narrative slowly lost my attention through the discussions of the unions, trade shows and politics.
Are you reading memoir? If so, which one, and why?
Where the Wind Leads: A Refugee Family’s Miraculous Story of Loss, Rescue, and Redemption, Vinh Chung (Thomas Nelson, ISBN 978-0849947561)
Making Trouble: Fighting for Fair Trade Jewellery, Greg Valerio (Lion, ISBN 978-0745956033)