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The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  4,916 ratings  ·  723 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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4.09  · 
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 ·  4,916 ratings  ·  723 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.

We follow these eve
Oct 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Lovely, moving, highly recommended.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!
Jun 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
”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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Cori Edgerton
Oct 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful, well written memoir that describes one Hmong family's journey from the Secret War and its aftermath in Laos and Thailand to coming to America as refugees and trying to obtain the "American Dream" while still holding onto their culture. Very relevant in today's world with the plight of Syria as well as a part of history that is not discussed in the classroom, I highly recommend The Latehomecomer to anyone who enjoys stories of struggle, determination, family, history, and traditions.
May 06, 2008 rated it liked it
I found this book fascinating for the first 2/3 and then when the family arrived in America, I felt that the pace slowed somewhat. It's a great study of one extended Hmong family and how they cope with adversity in Laos, Thailand and the U.S. and also overcome it. I liked some of the images that Yang expressed such as the babies waiting in the clouds to be born.
Nov 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a family memoir told from the perspective of the second oldest girl in a large Hmong family, from their life-altering escape from Laos to Thailand where they spent time in the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp, to their emigration to St. Paul. The title refers to Kao Kalia Yang’s struggle to understand and accept the desire of her parents to leave the land of her young childhood for a better life in the U.S. For years she is silent, not quite understanding why her parents worked so hard to achieve ...more
Apr 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This has been on my "to-read" list for quite some time, and I'm glad that my upcoming Carleton reunion prodded me into prioritizing it (the book will be discussed as part of my class's "special events" at our June reunion). I've often wondered exactly what the "before" life was like for people who were former refugees in Southeast Asia--my residence in Worthington has allowed me the privilege of meeting and knowing so many people from that background--and Kao Kalia Yang, with whom I'm proud to s ...more
Kent Gerber
Oct 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a vivid and beautifully written account of a Hmong family's story fleeing their homelands and coming to the United States. The details of everything from flight from soldiers in the jungle, young children roaming the refugee camps, the pain and joy of families trying to stay together moving from country to country and settling in the U.S. are hauntingly beautiful.

I appreciate Yang opening a window for her readers into her thoughts and the inner experience of her family and the Hmong com
Sep 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
I came to read this memoir with Anne Fadiman's recommendation on the cover. Fadiman's book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, gives the reader a picture of the culture and religious background of the Hmong people. However, Yang's very personal memoir is her own family story and it is an honest and valuable view of refugee life in the United States. It begins with the family forced from their home in Laos and living in a Thai refugee camp. This book has an especial appeal now as a reveali ...more
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Kao Kalia Yang is the author of The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, which was a finalist for the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award and the Asian American Literary Award, and received the 2009 Minnesota Book Award. Her work has been published in Longreads and the Virginia Quarterly. Yang, who has taught at Columbia University and Concordia University-St. Paul, among other places, lives in Minn ...more
“Love is the reason why my mother and father stick together in a hard life when they might each have an easier one apart; love is the reason why you choose a life with someone, and you don't turn back although your heart cries sometimes and your children see you cry and you wish out loud that things were easier. Love is getting up each day and fighting the same fight only to sleep that night in the same bed beside the same person because long ago, when you were younger and you did not see so clearly, you had chosen them.” 20 likes
“I learned that what made our parents sad was not so much the hardness of the life they had to lead in America, or the hardness of the lives they had led to get to America, but the hardness of OUR lives in America. It was always about the children.” 5 likes
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