Summary and book reviews of The Unwanted by Kien Nguyen

The Unwanted

By Kien Nguyen

The Unwanted
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2001,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2002,
    368 pages.

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Book Summary

Saigon fell to the Viet Cong on April 30, 1975. Kien Nguyen watched the last U.S. Army helicopter leave without him, without his brother, without his mother, without his grandparents. Kien was more at risk than most because of his odd blond hair and his light eyes—because he as Amerasian. He was the most unwanted.

Told with stark and poetic brilliance, this is a story of survival and ultimately a story of hope. It is a moving and personal record of a family's journey to America and of a tumultuous and important piece of history.

Told with the author's unique perspective—Kien Nguyen was born in Nhatrang, South Vietnam, in 1967, to a Vietnamese mother and an American G.I. father—this memoir continues the legacy of unforgettable Vietnam stories such as Full Metal Jacket and Platoon.

Chapter One
Nhatrang, May 12, 1972, 7 P.M.

I remember that night quite well. It is my first memory, and the happiest one from my childhood.

The familiar smell of pig roasting on a spit wafted from the kitchen. My mother made cheery noises as she ran from one hallway to the next, giving orders to the help with a hint of pompous confidence. The moist summer air evaporated into a transparent mist all around me due to the kind of heat found only in Nhatrang and only in May. And what I remember most of all is the sense of festivity all around me as the last rays of sunlight disappeared into the ocean, just a few hundred feet away from my window. It was my fifth birthday.

My childhood home, in order to accommodate my mother's passion for living near beautiful beaches, was situated by the water, with the waves murmuring at the foot of the house. The mansion was comprised of three stories and over twenty-four rooms, including at least eight bedrooms. All were furnished with ...

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A brilliant and very moving book, told with no self pity which left this reader wanting more. The author will be publishing his first novel, The Tapestries in October 2002 but sadly, at the time of writing, there are no plans for a second installment of memoirs.  

Media Reviews
USA Today

He writes with a voice of innocence that takes us into the heart and spirit of one person's undeserved and tragic childhood.

Publishers Weekly

Although his writing lacks the lyricism of recent memoirs like The Liar's Club or Angela's Ashes, Nguyen's voice is clear and strong, and he is adept at capturing both the broad sweep of life under the Vietcong and the peculiarities of growing up in a colorful and emotionally dysfunctional family during a jarring and vicious revolution.

Kirkus Reviews

In this compelling memoir, the son of an anonymous American GI and a wealthy Vietnamese woman relives ten years of hell in South Vietnam after the fall of Saigon. Nguyen delivers a suspenseful tale rather than a sob story anyone looking for a firsthand insight into America's tangled relations with Vietnam will not be disappointed.

Library Journal

Ultimately, his tale is one of extraordinary courage and human will, for Nguyen and his mother held their family together in the face of great hardships. Beautifully written and inspirational, this memoir is highly recommended.

Author Blurb Douglas Brinkley, Director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies and Professor of History at the University of New Orleans and author.
Kien Nguyen's The Unwanted is a haunting memoir of both nightmarish agony and redemptive self-discovery destined to become a literary classic. Written by a Vietnamese immigrant storyteller whose mesmerizing prose is reminiscent of Frank McCourt and Alfred Kazin, The Unwanted is a cultural experience you won't easily forget.

Author Blurb Marlene Chamberlain
The unwanted in the title refers to the American children who resulted from U.S. involvement in Vietnam from the late 1950s to 1975. Kien has blond hair and blue eyes and is only eight when Saigon falls to the communists in the spring of 1975. He is at the American embassy with his mother and other family members waiting for the last helicopters to leave Vietnam. However, one helicopter crashes and the other flees, leaving hundreds of Vietnamese stranded in hostile territory. His mother, once a wealthy banker, is left with nothing after her house is given to a Communist Party member; and Kien and his brother are considered half-breeds by the conquering North Vietnamese and by their own neighbors and some relatives. Together with his mother, younger brother, grandparents, and a former servant, Kien learns to survive by trying to grow up early. When an attempted escape turns tragic, Kien becomes a prisoner in Vietnam. This is a moving memoir by someone who was forced out of childhood by war and its many disruptions.

Author Blurb Lan Cau, author of Monkey Bridge and Everything You Need to Know About Asian American History (with Himilce Novas)
Compellingly told, Kien Nguyen's story of an Amerasian boy and his mother unfolds dramatically page by page. It not only touches the heart but contributes to our understanding of the history of postwar Vietnam.

Reader Reviews

It makes me cry !
I couldn't stop reading the book. When i was reading the book it seemed like i was going through the time with the writer. It touched me deep in my mind. Thanks Nguyen for sharing this horrible past.


The Unwanted by Kien Nguyen
This book left me heartbroken and stunned. There have been only a few books that have impacted me the way this book has. The poverty, abuse and tenacity of his spirit, leaves me ashamed of my own comfortable life. I wish there was a way to reach ...   Read More

Clif McCracken

Unwanted: Feeling of Superiority
Having just completed The Unwanted, I write this review with humiliation and disgrace. My sorrowful state is not for Kien Nguyen and the unwanted Ameriasian children of Vietnam, but for my own spoiled nature and the sheltered existence that I have ...   Read More


Well written and highly recommended....

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