Wandering Souls by Cecile Pin

A story of Vietnamese boat people as they were named here, and the struggles and effect migrating has on their lives when escaping a communist regime looking for a better or safer life. We get the stories of journeys that went wrong – Koh Kra where a group of fishermen captured the boat, raped the women repeatedly and murdered the boys and men. Or closer to home, the container that was opened only to find all the people in it dead and, to add insult to injury, they were identified as Chinese not Vietnamese.

The family that we follow travels in two groups and only one group survives. Sixteen year old Anh and her brothers Manh and Thanh. Her parents and three other siblings died on their crossing and were washed up near Hong Kong weeks later.

After a series of camps in both Hong Kong and here in the UK, they are given a flat in Catford to start their new lives, but what lives. Anh works in a clothing factory, Minh leaves school at sixteen and struggles to find work and Thanh, being younger, studies. As it says so often in the book, this isn’t what their parents wished for.

The wandering souls are Anh and her brothers but also the souls of her family who died as they were not buried at home which means that their souls continue to wander, particularly Dao their youngest brother who is restless making for a haunting and haunted story.

Interwoven throughout the narrative are different voices: those of officials through letters such as Thatcher’s public appearance of welcoming the Vietnamese whilst privately fighting the policy, Dao and an unnamed narrator who is revealed at the end. I read somewhere recently that it is the children of immigrants who tell the stories in search of their identity and so it is here.

You might call this book a novella. It is short and quick to read as so many of the chapters are not at all long. It is also clear and precise, little waffle, and quite unemotional for what is a very emotional story. The end is uplifting because it is a story of people who have learnt to live again and to find joy in their lives.

We tell ourselves stories to live

Joan Didion The White Album and p234

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *