This year marks the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, a defining event in Vietnamese history and an appropriate year for the release of Michelle Robin La’s Catching Shrimp with Bare Hands: A Boy from the Mekong Delta. The memoir details the childhood of her husband Luong La growing up in the midst of the Vietnam war between the ages of four and sixteen. It recounts the war, the communist takeover, and his family’s escape from Vietnam.
“I’ve been fascinated by the stories my husband and his family tell ever since I met them,” says Michelle, who met her husband while studying at the University of Washington. Her book offers the unique perspective of her husband’s life on the islands of the Mekong Delta in South Vietnam. Readers get to follow Luong as he meets Americans for the first time, is threatened by the Viet Cong, and watches as his country surrenders and is reunified into a socialist republic.
“We hear about Vietnamese boat people, but this memoir gives an account of the conditions that pushed them to risk their lives. It also shows their resourcefulness in building boats, selling passages, and keeping escape plans secret,” says Michelle. When Saigon fell in April of 1975, Luong and his family were unable to leave and were forced to live for four years in a communist society with propaganda that “kneaded their skulls,” neighbors who spied on each other, and the constant fear of starvation. Such conditions spurred Luong to extreme acts of defiance, which may have landed him in prison had it not been for his mother, who had him quit school to build a boat for their escape.
Catching Shrimp With Bare Hands is available digitally on Kindle and iBooks or in print on Amazon and at Chaucer’s Bookstore. Michelle La will have a book signing at Chaucer’s on Thursday, June 18 at 7 p.m. To learn more about Michelle or her book, visit her website.