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The Unwanted: A Memoir of Childhood

4.28  ·  Rating details ·  2,078 ratings  ·  239 reviews
A story of hope, a story of survival, and an incredible journey of escape, 'The Unwanted' is the only memoir by an Amerasian who stayed behind in Vietnam after the fall of Saigon and who is now living in America.
Paperback, 343 pages
Published April 8th 2002 by Back Bay Books (first published January 1st 2002)
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Average rating 4.28  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,078 ratings  ·  239 reviews

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Stephen Gallup
Nov 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
As a student of memoir, I generally prefer examples that include a fair amount of introspection and reevaluation of past events. But analysis is more appropriate for some material than others. A small child living through apocalyptic times is unlikely to display introspection, and the adult author looking back on those times will be intrusive if he does more than simply provide the facts of his experience. Here, I was the one doing the pondering.

It's sobering to try and comprehend the multitudes
Feb 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Tari by: co worker
A quick read - difficult to put down. What a heartbreaking story of a young boy's growing up years. Hard to think how many others shared these same experiences in war torn countries over the years. Makes a person so very grateful for growing up without having to live in a land torn by war.

Throughout the story was an underlying story of his mothers' strugle to provide for her family and elderly parents. A very well written description of his perception of his mother and how much she changed over
Apr 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Couldn't put this down. Heartbreaking at times, but a truly amazing read.
Apr 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Kien Nguyen isn't much older than my husband, but the horror he lived through in Vietnam as a child is far beyond the scope of any American's imagination. His family, once very wealthy before the fall of Saigon, becomes one of the poorest families in war-torn Vietnam. He and his brother are shunned as "half-breeds," their American ancestry evident in their features. Because his mother was once at the top of society, she is punished in the new Communist regime, and has to give everything up to pr ...more
There is no question in my mind concerning how many stars to give this book. Actually 5 is too little. This is my all time favorite book. Many have it on their "to-read" lists. Put it at the top. Make it the next book you read.

The suspense at the end made my heart race. I had to stop to get air. I was racing over the words to find out what would happen even though I knew he would end up on the plane. You KNOW that he ended up in the States, he wrote the book there. I had to know exactly how it o
Nov 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
As a freshmen I thought this book was sad but good at the same time.I taught me what my grandparents and parents had to go through when they were young.The book also showed me what Vietnam was like before the communist took over the country and the people's freedom.As I was reading the book I never imagined that he would get rape by his mom's boyfriend.That's just really mean and sad for him.I feel like because of what happened, he learned it and later did it to that girl.I think it should be a ...more
Dec 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Elyse by: Marta Schindler
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
So much persecution for such a young boy. Fear and confusion about the meaning behind the hatred were constantly with Kien, who did not initially understand that he had no control over it.

Kien's world changed dramatically when he was still a boy. He was forced to grow up knowing that strangers and even his own family were judging him because of his heritage. He was poked, prodded, looked down on and made to feel inferior, and spent most of his first years not knowing why.

The way he told his stor
Jan 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The memoir about Kien, An Amerasian, certainly was an awakening to me. This book showed what really happened in Viet Nam before and after the Communist took over Saigon. The heartbreaking story of the survival of these people really made me think twice about our life in the United States of America.
Apr 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2020
4.5 stars

Trigger warnings: war, death, murder, abortion, sexual violence, dog murder, rape, anti-black racism, and forced prostitution of a minor.
Kien Nguyen is born in 1967 to a Vietnamese mother and an American father. The father goes back to America when Kien is 3 months old but the mother is doing well. She is part owner of a bank, she has another younger Amerasian child, she lives in a mansion with servants, she is pregnant with her Vietnamese boyfriend's baby. Then Saigon falls to the Viet Cong, the last American helicopters leave and Communism takes over and works hard to destroy anyone who has any belongings or hope. A half-breed ...more
Sep 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
If I could give this book 10 stars I would, a horrific story of what it was to grow up in Vietnam after communist rule took over. I knew life wasn't easy for those who were considered enemies of that government but I never imagined the depth of the horror. And knowing the author and his brother were really American makes this even more horrific. I thank God he was able to escape to America and make a life for himself here. He says he has no plans to write about his life after he came here, he sa ...more
Jun 03, 2009 rated it liked it
One of the reasons I like memoir writing is that the person doesn't have to be a polished writer and it's okay. It is all about the story and the need to get it out there. This is one of those stories that needs to be told. Kien Nguyen is the son of a Vietnamese woman and an American business man. His parents were never married and he never knew his Dad. His family was not able to make it out of Saigon before the Americans pulled out at the end of the Vietnam war. This story details the hardship ...more
Jun 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book is both easy to read and difficult to swallow, all at the same time. I tried to explain it to my children, who are always interested
in the stories I read. As I tried to describe the war and the politics and the culture and the atrocities, I could not help but think that these things happened to this young boy while I was here, in America, well-fed, abundantly-loved, and spoiled rotten. I really did not want it to end. I wanted to read more about his life after Vietnam. I wanted to unde
Jan 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Just when you think the story can't possibly get any more tragic, it does. This book is not for the faint of heart, but there are not many accounts of life in post-Vietnam war Vietnam. Everyone I know from there escaped in 1975, so to read the story of someone who remained for a full ten years after the Americans left was incredible. Even more so, he is half Vietnamese. I have a half Vietnamese child myself, and I cannot believe that anyone could ever see him as anything other than beautiful. It ...more
Sep 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
A really sad story told by a small boy growing up under the Communist Vietcong . He and his younger brother were the lowest of the low- an Amerasian- the progeny of an Asian mother and an American GI.

Again, I am astounded by the atrocities human beings heap upon one another ! This boy was never allowed a childhood-forced to grow up way too fast and endure one horror after another . In the end his family does escape to America- but I was left wondering what happened after that ???

Touching story t
Jenna Montgomery
The second half of the book held my attention more than the first half. The story was tragic and got more tragic with every page. However, I feel like Nguyen's story is similar to many people who have written memoirs about their impoverished childhoods in war torn countries. Nothing in his story is surprising, but sad nonetheless.

I was hoping to learn more about Vietnam from this book, and the author did give some insight into the fall of Saigon and the beginning of the Communist regime in the
Missy J
Interesting book.
Sometimes really painful to read, as it's an autobiography (and I always have difficulties with that, wondering if it's really 100% true or not).

Some interesting aspects I found: how Amerasians were given the opportunity to move back to the US (and that some of the mixed people were actually not American, but French...), the wisdom of Kien's grandparents (they were my favorites in the book), the rivalry and jealousy between Kien's mom and his aunt (very sad).

But overall, reall
Jul 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book is not for the faint of heart. However, I think everyone should read this. As he placed dates with “nightmarish” events in his life, I recalled how old I was, the house I lived in and child hood memories. A cultural experience of postwar Vietnam and a lesson of why our freedoms are so precious. A story you will not forget. The only memoir written by an Amerasain who lived through the fall of Saigon, at a young age, enduring life there for 13 years and who now lives in America.
Feb 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
A heartbreaking trip back to the spoils of war--this time the Viet Nam
conflict is the setting as the Americans try to evacuate as many people as they can. Kien is the child of an American soldier and a Viet Namese mother and is the "unwanted" of the title. They miss the evacuation and the story recounts their hardships trying to get out of the country. My only criticism is I would have liked to know more about the author's eventual rescue and the people who raised him stateside.
Akila R
Jan 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
As with most memoirs, this book revealed a story that was painful and heart-wrenching, but more importantly, it showed the monstrosities of humanity and the power of hope and faith. A very short book to read and difficult to put down, Kien Nguyen has portrayed the difficulties of being an Amerasian in Communist Vietnam in the 70s. Beautifully written, a tale so poignant that it will haunt even the hard hearted.
Mar 15, 2011 rated it did not like it
Certainly this man had a horrific childhood. However, I cannot know what of the specific events are accurate. It is improbable at best that a 5 year old can recall full conversations and the dinner menu for a specific night. He has interpreted some events later as an adult but he would not have understood what was happening when they occurred. It isn't a very well written story and would have worked better as a novel rather than a liberally embellished "memoir".
Apr 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
An amazing and extremely powerful story about a young man and his family's struggles to survive in Vietnam after the fall of Saigon and his escape to America. From the start of the story I knew he and his family settled in America, but throughout the book I would find myself forgetting this and I would worry about his fate after every attempt to escape failed. I would love to see this book be required reading for high school seniors.
Mar 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Five stars for sure. The best book I've read since The Glass Castle. Some parts are extremely upsetting... but considering you will only be reading it while he had to live it, stay the course. Amazing, true story of an Amerasian child left in Vietnam when the American soldiers left and the Communists arrived.
Oct 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
This story was so tragically moving. It is a memoir and beautifuly written. I cried and was impressed with the ability of the human spirit to survive at all costs. I also learned about how difficult it was during the fall of Saigon after Communism came and why refugees would risk everything to come to America for freedom. I would read future stories by Nguyen.
Jan 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Probably one of the saddest things I have ever read. Hearing about Kien's life after the fall of Saigon was really eye-opening for me. I have family in Vietnam (my father is from there) and this gives me a glimpse into what life was like for them. It also shows me how different my life could have been had I been born in Vietnam during that time instead of in the United States in the 1980s.
Jun 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book will break your heart so many times. The author is Amer-Asian, a product of the Vietnam war, who was hated in his home country by everyone for only that reason. He wrote the book as a catharsis to help him put his past behind him and end his horrible nightmares and we are the benefactors. His struggle to escape Communist Vietnam is riveting. I highly recommend this book.
Starla Patterson
Jan 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book was so sad and graphuc that it gave me nightmares...but it was a great read, and a wonderful tale of triumph in the face of adversity. I highly recommend it to those that are not easily brought to tears.
Eva Nickelson
Jan 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Haunting tragic, Nguyen relates how he lived poor and as an outcast. Showing the truly frightening side of communism and racism, the only saving grace is that the reader knows how the story ends: he survives.
Lucy Briggs
Mar 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
A fast read, and the first book I've actually read in the last two months. Would rate it a 3 and 1/2. What a time in our recent history. Makes me wonder about children who have been fathered by US military men in the last decade. Hope the lives of these children aren't as desperate.
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Kien Nguyen was born to a Vietnamese mother from a once wealthy family and her American civil engineer lover. His mother's family, who had lost their wealth when the French left Vietnam, lived among neighbors who treated them as pariahs because of their colonialist background. Kien, a child of mixed race, was especially ostracized from the community.

He left Vietnam in 1985 through the United Natio

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42 likes · 9 comments
“Don't let this anger ruin your life any more than it already has. If you want to every achieve happiness, don't dwell on the past. Instead, start living. What is the point of obsessing that has already happened, and that you cannot change? Live! And be merry.” 5 likes
“Lying half-asleep in his embrace, I looked up and saw on his face the same expression I saw on countless lonely faces every day. It was the homesick look of the children who were lost in the chaos of warfare, witnessing death and disaster, longing for a meaningful touch.” 2 likes
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