Kien Nguyen: Key-en When
Kien Nguyen grew up an outsider in his native land. His once wealthy family, thrust into poverty at the dawn of a new political regime, lived among neighbors who treated them as pariahs, unwelcome remnants the colonialist past. Nguyen, himself a child of mixed race (his father was American), was among the most unwanted. He left Vietnam in 1985 through the United Nations "Orderly Departure Program." After spending time at a refugee camp in the Philippines, Nguyen arrived in the United States.
Nguyen's memoir, The Unwanted, tells of his experience. He has written two other books, The Tapestries and Le Colonial. He lives in New York City.
This biography was last updated on 01/01/2011.
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Kien Nguyen talks about his grandfather, the inspiration for his first novel, The Tapestries
I was six days old when my grandfather first told me his life stories. I was lying in a small bamboo cradle suspended by ropes from a high
wooden beam. From the window, the summer sky shone like an
inverted ocean, motionless except for a few distant clouds. Hummingbirds
fluttered over the garden fountain, then disappeared into
the pomegranate trees.
While the ceiling swayed he would speak to me in a melodic tone, always with the same introduction: "During the winter months, the Perfume River was chilly, especially at dawn." In my recollection, the world of my grandfather was simple, irregular, and deliberately void of anything material. No photo albums or mementos helped illustrate his tales, only his soothing voice, flowing in the river of his memory.
At times, my grandmother would join him. In the background, she would pluck the strings of her lute and sing Vietnamese folk songs. Between the two of them, my childhood was filled with wonder. I could always close my eyes and allow myself to be transported back to a time when my grandfather was a child. While in the rest of the world, children grew up with fairy tales...
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