Weeping Under the Same Moon was originally published in 2008, but has recently been released as an audiobook, available through Audible. I was lucky enough to receive a copy for review from Audiobook Boom and enthusiastically give it five stars, both for the narrative and the narration.
Two narrators read the story: one plays the teenage refugee, Mei, who must flee from Vietnam at a time when anyone of Chinese descent was being persecuted, the other plays Hannah, an American teenage misfit and loner, with eating problems.
Based on the true story of two teenagers, the book follows Mai's departure form her beloved home, along with her fourteen year old brother and little sister. From then on she must assume responsibility for both, although she is barely more than a child herself. The crossing is frightening, with very little to eat or drink and no toilet facilities. The little boat is at the mercy of the sea and many are sea-sick. Mai's best friend had attempted the crossing before her and had drowned herself rather than be subjected to rape, so Mai is full of trepidation. When they finally reach Malaysia their problems are not over - rather than a comfortable bed and welcoming arms, they find themselves sharing a room with another family, locked in a refugee camp.
Meanwhile, Hannah, who I believe is actually the author, Jana Laiz, is struggling in school. She has become socially isolated because she refuses to conform and smoke dope with her friends. She has resorted to extreme dieting to feel better about herself and although she writes and takes photographs, she declines to share them for fear of ridicule. I fear she represents many children who are picked on and bullied in schools across the West.
When she hears about the Vietnamese Boat People she is motivated to help and contacts an organisation involved with repatriation. She is put in contact with a group of families who have recently arrived; they speak little English and she speaks no Vietnamese, but she doggedly perseveres and is able to help them in so many ways.
Several things struck me about this book:
Firstly, what a wonderful motivational story this would be for struggling, isolated teens. How volunteering could actually help the volunteer as much as the recipients.
Secondly, how differently refugees were received then, around the end of the 1970s. Many of these people were homed into the West and integrated into society - unlike in another book I recently read about today's refugees (Paradise Denied by Zekarias Kebraeb), where so many were repatriated to face a hostile welcome on their return.
The issue of refugees is very topical and books such as Weeping Under This Same Moon and Paradise Denied, should be required reading in schools.
I was sorry when this book ended, I felt as if its characters were my friends.
Paradise Denied by Zekarias Kebraeb (5 stars)