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Reviewed by Patricia Day for Readers' Favorite
Across the River by Elaine Russell, is powerful reading. It is the harrowing tale of a family’s escape from the horrors of the Vietnam war.
At the time, Nou is a child. It is her family's story. Freedom is when the Americans leave the country. All they can do is escape across the river Mekong, into Laos and to a refugee camp. If that fails, they are dead. Reaching Laos is their only hope. The story is told through the eyes of little Nou, or Laura as she chooses to be known much later, of her parents and family members. You become embroiled in the nightmarish battle for survival. Nou’s brothers are lost along the way, as are more family members. The journey to Laos is laced with tragedy, and what follows is equally heart-wrenching. She grows up confused and scarred. Born into an Asian farming culture, she has to adapt to Western civilization. Along the way and to avoid derision, she changes her name. She no longer wants to be identified as an alien in America.
When her father discovers what she has done, traditional methods are used to rid her of the spirits of disrespect and dishonor. She has disgraced her family and must pay the price. Her struggles, and those of her parents, hold the reader captive as they encounter one obstacle after another. It is hard to put the book down. Nou’s daily challenges became my own. I felt her pain as she strove to change and become another person – to fit in with the culture around her. It is not a sad read – tragic, yes, but enthralling. Nou takes you along on her frantic journey to escape the country of her birth, and into the world of refugees and eventual freedom to a new country.