Beacon Press, 1998
Agent: Sandra Dijkstra
An intimate portrait of real-life strangers in a strange land.
I Begin My Life All Over records the story of thirty-six Hmong immigrants to California, tracing their journey from the subsistence farms of Laos, through their harrowing escape into the camps of Thailand, and to relocation to a new continent, and to a new century.
The Hmong elders had never seen a traffic light, an electric can opener, or indoor plumbing. Their healers sacrificed animals by the patient's bedside; their wives, sometimes two or three to a man, began bearing children at fourteen and often had twelve or more. Now their American-born grandchildren speak English only, use VCRs and CDs; the girls choose education over marriage, the boys often join gangs. The generation in between is deeply conflicted, caught literally between two worlds, unable to be fully Hmong or American.
Interspersed throughout these first-person narratives, Lillian Faderman provides historical and cultural context, and draws rich comparisons between the experience of the Hmong in the 1990s and her mother's immigration from Eastern European shtetls in the 1930s. The stories told are full of surprises, Western medicine embracing Shaman healers, traditional Hmong fathers wishing for a freer life for their daughters, young people longing to recapture their heritage, as well as familiar heartbreak. This book offers a new chapter in the history of the American dream.
"Faderman has collected oral histories from individuals ranging from adults who escaped through the jungles of Laos, to the American-born teenagers anxious to negotiate a balance between the American life they see on television and the scars of their familial and ethnic history."
—Hanya Yanagihara for A Magazine
"Faderman supplies invaluable historical context, told succinctly and well, for the narratives. She also weaves brief personal anecdotes throughout the book and draws parallels between the Hmongs' experiences and those of her own life as a first-generation American and of her mother's, a Jewish immigrant."
—San Diego Union-Tribune
"That these immigrants have endured so much and lived to tell the tale is almost more than the average reader can comprehend. I Begin My Life All Over belongs on everyone's reading list; this is truly a book to be grateful for."
—Gish Jen, author of Typical Americanand Mona in the Promised Land
"The root of the book is Hmong individuals' personal, true-life stories, and they make for powerful reading."
"Faderman's inclusion of the Hmong's history in Laos and China . . . deepens our awareness of the obstacles they've overcome in adjusting to their new country. This enriching book fulfills the author's aim 'to capture [the Hmongs'] living voices, and to make those voices resound in the reader's ears.'"
"Lillian Faderman and Ghia Xiong have compiled this collection of oral histories with care and sensitivity. Readers who share their communities with Hmong refugees could learn much about their neighbors--and perhaps about themselves as well--from the varied and compelling viewpoints it presents."
—Anne Fadiman, author of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down