Caitlin's Reviews > Born to Kill: The Rise and Fall of America's Bloodiest Asian Gang

Born to Kill by T.J. English
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Oct 21, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: 2009
Read in October, 2009

If you like intelligent true crime books about organized crime in particular and you haven't read T.J. English yet, you're missing out. His books are meaty and well-written, but as entertaining as any thriller out there. I've read all of them and enjoyed them all, but for different reasons.

Born to Kill is English's first book. It examines the rise and fall and rise of the Vietnamese gang, Born to Kill. This gang was born in Chinatown among young Vietnamese immigrants during the nineties. The book tells their story in the context of both Chinatown's traditional gangster societies and as a fundamental, if unexpected, consequence of the Vietnam War.

The majority of the members of Born to Kill were boat people who immigrated alone, often as 11 to 13 year olds. In a society literally destroyed by civil war, it was felt that these young men would have the best chance of making it to America, becoming self-sufficient and making the money to bring the rest of the family over. Imagine being 12 years old and dumped onto a small boat to cross the seas to America; encounters with pirates were ubiquitous and the conditions in the refugee camps where those who survived a voyage ended up were brutal. Once arrangements were made for immigration to America, most of these young men were sent to live with foster families who had no connection to them or their culture - many were in it for the money alone. Most of these young men washed up on the streets of Chinatown where they met other young Vietnamese men who banded together in shared apartments and in shared crimes to form the nucleus of the Born to Kill gang - a kind of extended family.

The Vietnamese gangs were very violent and very mobile. With no real ties to the larger Asian community or indeed to American in general, they broke all the established norms for criminal endeavor. Ultimately brought down by one of their own members, this is a fascinating story of a sad and brutal kind of family.
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