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The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  5,623 ratings  ·  806 reviews
In search of a place to call home, thousands of Hmong families made the journey from the war-torn jungles of Laos to the overcrowded refugee camps of Thailand and onward to America. But lacking a written language of their own, the Hmong experience has been primarily recorded by others. Driven to tell her family’s story after her grandmother’s death, The Latehomecomer is Ka ...more
Paperback, 277 pages
Published April 1st 2008 by Coffee House Press (first published January 1st 2008)
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 ·  5,623 ratings  ·  806 reviews

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Aug 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
This book hit home for me, literally. Yang and her family move to Minnesota and settle into a housing project very near where I lived when I was in elementary school. Due to the high Hmong population in St. Paul, I went to school with a handful of Hmong kids and reading this memoir makes me realize that although I was in classes with these kids, even had desks adjacent to some of them, I definitely did not appreciate who they were and what some of them were going through at the time. I have no d ...more
I loved this book because it emotionally moved me. I want to feel connection with those I read about, and I certainly did that here.

The book tells about the Hmong people - their traditions, their culture and the role their people played in the Vietnam War. In what is called The Secret War Hmong boys from Laos were recruited to fight against communist forces. After the Vietnam and Laotian Wars, hundreds of thousands of Hmong refugees fled to Thailand seeking political asylum.

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Jenny (Reading Envy)
After reading The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures, I was curious to learn more about the Hmong people and "The Secret War." This memoir chronicles the Yang family's escape from Laos into a refugee camp in Thailand (where the author was born) to resettlement in Minnesota. The contrast in cultures and values was stark as the parents as the family tried to make the United States home, even if it's not where the ancestors a ...more
Dec 31, 2008 rated it really liked it
I've been flagellating trying to write a review of this story, I think because I want so badly to relate it to the multitude of political cultural historical events that it skirts, always affected by them but rarely addressing them. That is a credit to Ms. Yang, who establishes herself here as a powerfully lyrical writer, with both feet firm in what I (as an ignoramus) imagine to be the Hmong oral tradition. Though these pages together are a memoir, the Latehomecomer is not Ms. Yang but rather h ...more
Oct 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Lovely, moving, highly recommended.
Debbie Zapata
Dec 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019sundaze
A beautifully written, extremely moving story of a family and a culture determined to survive.

I knew nothing about the Hmong people, and was enchanted by some of their beliefs and customs.

I am otherwise speechless here, I'm sorry.

Just read the book and see the quality for yourself.
Diane S ☔
Jul 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: roadrallyteamb
When the United States withdrew from Vietnam, they left the Hmong people in dire straits. One third of them were killed during the war, one third were the victims of genocide by the North Vietnamese and the Pathet Lao soldiers. Those that were alive fled to the jungles and tried to hide and eke out a sort of life.

This is the story of Kao and her family, written and narrated by her and the characterization are very vivid and poignant. She herself, was born in Thailand, in a refugee camp, after h
Jan 15, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir, my-reviews
The only book I'd read about the Hmong previously was The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Culturesby Anne Fadiman. I felt that Fadiman was portraying the Hmong as a mysterious puzzle to be solved. This is the first book I have read from a Hmong perspective. It humanizes the Hmong and gives them more of a context. I place the Hmong in the context of other independent spirited mountain peoples with distinctive cultures such as the ...more
Nov 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Halfway through this book I decided that it should be required reading for any non-Hmong person who lives in the Twin Cities/western Wisconsin or in California's central valley--any place where the large numbers of Hmong families have resettled. I later found out it is required reading this year for the incoming class at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. I learned a lot about the incredible struggles faced by the Hmong during and after the Secret War in Laos. The writer's voice is clear a ...more
May 21, 2018 added it
I am parking this one until I can locate a hard copy of the book as the audio version is very difficult to listen to and just doesn't work for me and think I need a hard copy of this one to get the best out of the book.
Scott Nvenue
Mar 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the memoir of Kao Kalia Yang and of the impact of the Vietnam War on her Hmong family and their journey from Laos to the United States. It is an interesting and true story of struggle and survival, and it is a real addition to the pantheon of American immigrant stories.

The Hmong are a tribal people living in Southeast Asia – primarily Laos and Vietnam. They were famous for their fighting skills during the Vietnam War where they were important allies of the United States. However, they ha
Feb 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: for-bookclub
Kao Kalia Yang tells her family's story from the jungles of Laos to the projects of St. Paul and beyond with grace, humor, compassion and wonder. She retells her grandmother's stories with a respect that leads one to truly appreciate the ease of our lives.

Yang struggled as a child with English, school, and double expectations. She has overcome obstacles most of us couldn't and has become a gifted storyteller, just like her grandmother.

As I drive around St. Paul after finishing the book, I find m
Jan 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
I really enjoyed this book. Growing up around several Hmong people, I was shocked that I did not know the Hmong story. I read this book and it whetted my appetite to learn more about the Hmong people. Next, I read "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down." This book explains the Hmong plight very well, and helped me understand The Late Homecomer more. My favorite part in this book was when the family came to the United States and she writes how they took a bath with a strange smelling soap and ...more
Jul 01, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

As part of an immigration project I'm working on, I recently spent a lot of time interviewing members of the Hmong community in Minneapolis-St. Paul. For those who don't know, the Hmong are an ancient Chinese tribe that centuries ago moved mostly to Laos, where they fought for the Americans during the Vietnam War.

This of course put them in great jeopardy after the war ended, and thousands of Hmong fled to refugee camps in Thailand and then to the U.S., where the largest single concentration now
May 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone!
Recommended to Claudia by: Kao Kalia Yang
Kao Kalia Yang's written words read just like her spoken words sound - eloquent, sparse, and powerful in their own quiet, poetic way. Kalia's book is the first novel published by a Hmong American woman, and as a creative non-fiction memoir of her family's migration from the hills of Laos to refugee camps in Thailand to the cities of Minnesota, it makes a beautiful addition to the long history of Hmong storytelling as well as a promising start to what is likely to be an incredible career for Kali ...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
This is an interesting memoir by a Hmong-American writer, about the experiences of a community that is opaque to many Americans. The Hmong are an ethnic minority who moved from China to Laos centuries ago; the Chinese outlawing their written language is apparently the reason they lack one even today. Many Hmong assisted the Americans in the Vietnam War, in which about a third of their population died; another third was killed in the persecution after the American army’s departure. The author’s p ...more
I heard her heartbeat answer my hug.

Love, for me, is the reason why we remember our lives in stories, with characters and places, vivid and true. It is easy to talk of the contents of a book. It is far harder to forget the love on encounters between the pages of lives. - the author
Feb 26, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kay by: Kristen
My introduction to Hmong people was when I first visited my daughter's family who had just moved to Wisconsin. There was a large, happy group of Asian people at the park. She told me they were Hmong. "What is Hmong?" I asked. She said they were from Viet Nam. She was sort of right. They did live in Viet Nam, but really they are a race, a culture, a community without a country. My daughter has since made many friends with Hmong, one of whom recommended she read this book. She did and recommended ...more
Jun 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
My mom gave me this book after meeting Kao Kalia Yang at an in-person event. I had heard of the Hmong people but knew nothing of their story. I found the account of the author's family's struggle during the Vietnam War to be so sad and heart-wrenching... no one should have to endure the fear and danger that they lived through. There is a quote attributed to Mark Twain that goes, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness." In this book, I traveled with Yang's family to Laos, th ...more
Zen Cho
Jan 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Strikingly beautiful memoir by Kao Kalia Yang, whom I heard of through the Radiolab controversy last year -- lovely, sad and loving.

Though perhaps it's not for me to say, not being As-Am, I think it's a very valuable representation of an Asian-American experience not often described -- one that's on the opposite end of the spectrum from your Tiger Mothers. The things Yang talks about -- the vulnerability of her parents and grandmother, the role reversal when kids have the skills to navigate a ne
This is a beautiful memoir, deftly written, and the arc of three generations of women's lives gives a wonderful resiliency to the text. There are repeated images - walking; typing; struggling to speak - but within the disparate worlds of Laos, Thailand, and the United States each theme takes on a different resonance. The author's focus on words - spoken, then written, and the relationship between the two in more than one language - is haunting, and I got chills when she wrote an essay in high sc ...more
Nov 19, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I worked with a Hmong guy for about a year and he told some stories about the fighting in Laos. He had a lot of kids. It is easy to imagine him as one of this woman's uncles. He had a similar history in St. Paul as her family.

It was really interesting to read about her introduction to America, Minnesota and especially the St. Paul Public School system.

The way she explains her grandmother, the central character of the story, is so slow, showing and not telling, leaving out over-wrought psycholog
Nov 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is good to know about the struggles of the Hmong people. The author is about four years younger than me, so all of her family's efforts to survive have taken place while I was living a parallel comfortable life. It is healthy to make this comparison and see that they have the same needs and desires and capabilities as my family. They just haven't been as fortunate. This book is beautifully written. What talent!
Becki Iverson
Nov 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What a gorgeous, lyrical, important story. I'm ashamed to know so little about the Hmong experience as there is such a large community here in Minnesota. This book does a beautiful job of telling both the high level group commonalities and history of the Hmong, and making the struggle of Hmong people very personal through the poignant memoir about Yang's family's refugee journey. I knew a lot of vague high points of this story but this really hit home for me how scary it was to be Hmong in South ...more
Sep 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Kao Kalia Yang is so modest that she’s a minor character in her own memoir.

Memoirs often seem more auto-erotic than autobiographical, written to satisfy the author’s own throbbing ego. In “The Latehomecomer,” Kalia’s book about her family’s experiences as Hmong refugees, she goes hard in the opposite direction. It's almost an experiment- could you write a memoir and not talk about yourself at all? Reading this book, I sometimes wished that there was more Kalia in it. More bragging, more complain
Aaron Dettmann
Oct 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This was a great, great book about what happened to the Hmong after the Vietnam War. Very lyrically written, and heartbreaking in the raw emotion it conveys. Tells the true story of her family who had to hide for four years in the jungles of Laos while being hunted by Vietnamese soldiers. After one too many close calls with death, the dad decides to swim across the 1/2 mile wide Mekong River while towing his daughter, wife, and mom even though he didn't know how to swim, just so they can reach t ...more
Jun 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-reads
”A silence grew inside of me because I couldn’t say, that it was sometimes sad to be Hmong, even in America.”

This is how I sometimes feel being Hmong, living in America.

Most of how much I enjoyed this book had to do with the writing. It was beautiful and highly detailed which made this memoir captivating. You could see that Kao Kalia Yang really put time, thought, feelings, and compassion into writing this. (She also did a great job of narrating this on audiobook, FYI.)

This book emotionally res
Apr 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Julie by: Shana, Carleton Voice
Although I was aware of the sudden influx of Hmong immigrants into Minnesota when I was living there in the late 80’s, I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know much about them until I read this book. Kao Kalia Yang was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and emigrated with her family to St. Paul, eventually growing up to attend Carleton College. This is both her story, of the immigrant child trying to fit in, but even more it is the story of her family. She is raised with the stories of her fa ...more
Jul 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I'm bowled over by the beauty of this memoir. Kao Kalia Yang writes the history of her family with such simplicity, but it's a story of hardship and endurance at least as much as a story of family love. These two sentences, from near the end of the book, bring to bear much of the emotional weight of the story: "My grandmother's death (in 2003) was the first natural death in our family since 1975. It was the outcome we had been struggling so long for: a chance to die naturally, of old age, after ...more
May 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Minnesota author, Kao Kalia Yang, wrotes a beautiful, deeply moving memoir of her family's journey from Laos to America. She captures the essence of their struggles leaving Laos, in the refugee camp (where she is born) and assimilating to an American-Hmong lifestyle. She laces their story with the thread of the elders unending hope that their offspring would have better opportunities making their sacrifices worthwhile. There are many inspirational and tear jerking passages that touched me deeply ...more
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Kao Kalia Yang is an award-winning Hmong-American writer. She is a graduate of Carleton College and Columbia University. Yang is the author of the memoirs The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir and The Song Poet. The Latehomecomer is the first Asian American authored and centered book to be added to the roster of the Literature to Life Program and a National Endowment for the Arts Big Read title ...more

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