In the aftermath of treacherous war, Saigon—a city often compared to Paris—transforms into hellishness under the dictates of a cruel new government. A young Saigonese and her family flees to their earlier home in a peaceful village on the banks of a great river, but the repressive new regime is soon breathing down their backs again. Gambling everything, they put their lives and all their trust into an old frail antiquated and barely powered river boat. Never meant to traverse wide and deep waters such as the China Sea, it bobs like flotsam in waters patrolled by murdering pirates and subject to pounding storms. What follows is a miraculous event and good fortune delivers them to a Chinese fishing village within Malaysia, then a refugee camp outside Kuala Lumpur, and finally to a strange and wondrous place called San Diego, free of Viet Cong and monsoon rains and home to a yearly celebration in which kids can wear costumes and demand candy. Where many helpful people greet the newcomers with helping hands and open hearts. But also, where some people label newcomers as Gooks, or worse, act as if they are completely without human value.
This thrilling and touching story is told through the eyes of a girl born just after the pivotal Tet Offensive of 1968, which turned the tide of American opinion against the dubious Vietnam war, a girl merely ten years old when she and her family faced almost certain death but who found in America a land, and a welcome, that outstripped her ability to hope.