From the opening fable about babies falling from the sky to be born as Hmong people, to the death of the family matriarch, in simple and affecting prose, Kao Kalia Yang tells the stories of her parents, her childhood, and her grandmother in The Latehomecomer. The early chapters about her parents are so vivid, it’s startling that the author herself wasn’t born until they entered the refugee camp. Much of the book is framed by an immigrant narrative, passing from the jungles of Laos to a fixer-upper house in Minneapolis. Tigers stalk through some of the stories, often to tragic ends. While many of the stories are moving, I was most impressed by how she discovered the power of story-telling itself.
For an assignment in high school English to write about love, she realized she had to write about what mattered to her.
I wrote about the love I felt I knew: 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.
Once she sets that down, she finds herself consumed by doubts. What if it’s too much? What if her teacher didn’t like it? It’s a scary thing to pour out your heart like that. What is poured onto the pages of the book only make me hope I can dare to do as much.