Where the Wind Leads book review: Humor, adventure, and life affirmation

  • Title: Where the Wind Leads: A Refugee Family’s Miraculous Story of Loss, Rescue, and Redemption
  • Author: Vinh Chung, with Tim Downs
  • Print length: 351 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Nelson
  • Publication date: April 22, 2014
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Christian Publishing
  • Rating:
  • 5 gingersnap (out of 5 gingersnaps) for content(1)
  • 4 gingersnaps for craft(2)
  • 5 gingersnaps for its handling of Christian themes(3)
  • Comprehensive score: 5 gingersnaps (strongly recommended)

Review copy provided by BookLook Bloggers, a subsidiary of HarperCollins Christian Publishing

If you don’t mind spoilers, check out this book trailer for Where the Wind Leads. You’ll get to listen to an interview with Vinh Chung and view some of the photos from the book.

The book:

Where the Wind Leads tells its three-generational story of the Chung family based on “dozens of hours of transcript” in “three different languages” over the period of a year (p. 350). Vinh Chung’s voice tells the history of his grandparents’ rise and fall from wealth, their precarious situation as a former wealthy family in post-Vietnam War communism, and their journey to success in the United States. Interspersed with this narrative are scenes of Stan Mooneyham, World Vision’s president, launching the Seasweep operation to rescue stranded Vietnamese refugees and resettle them in the U.S.

An unexpected bonus: sixteen pages of photos from Vinh’s grandparents to a current picture of his wife and three (adorable) children.

The positive:

This book hooked me from page one. In my hectic life, I rarely get a chance for uninterrupted reading time. Despite this, I read from page 84 to 351 nearly in one sitting. Sample the opening few paragraphs to see why:

This is a story too big for one person to tell.

It’s a story that spans two continents, ten decades, and eleven thousand miles. It’s a story of a fortune lost and a treasure found, the story of two lost men and three extraordinary women who changed their lives.

My name is Vinh Chung. I was born in a country that no longer exists and grew up in a country I never knew existed.

While the book occasionally suffers from heavy-handed writing, pedestrian exposition to account for years deemed unremarkable, and overly simplistic explanations, I no longer cared by the time I finished the book. Sincerity shone from every page, and Chung felt like an uncle regaling his favorite niece with thrilling, wonderful tales. His family’s journey is an amazing one, but what impressed me most was his willingness to poke fun at himself while giving honor to his hard-working family. When high-school student Leisle, Chung’s future wife, asks whether they are girlfriend and boyfriend, he remembers his answer:

“You’re more than a friend,” I said. “But you’re not really a girlfriend.” Then it came to me. “You’re my special good friend.”

We all have flashes of brilliance in our lives, but that wasn’t one of mine.

He also has a good laugh at his clumsiness in interacting with the first girl he loved and admired.

I was amazed. I kept telling Leisle, “I didn’t know girls were that smart,” which I’m sure impressed her. [. . .] I was so ignorant about girls that I was blind to my own form of prejudice.

I felt like a biologist who had just discovered a new species; I probably told her that and impressed her again.

At this point, I fell in love with Vinh Chung and his entire family. His insights and commentary, which come across as a bit clunky in the first third of the book, absolutely shine throughout the last third of the book when he remembers his growing up in southern U.S. We watch a young boy grow into a mature man, and we cheer for him each step along the way. Rather than a sappy homage to his elders, he tells both the good and bad of his family’s journey with compassion, grace, and wisdom. The story of his father’s adultery remains unvarnished but juxtaposed with the story of Thanh Chung working double shifts at the factory for several decades, receiving an increase of thirty cents per hour for every year he worked there.

In Chung’s own words (describing his family’s first food after an extended period of starvation):

It was the best meal any of us had ever eaten, and no future meal would ever be able to compare with it because that meal went past our stomachs and directly into our souls.

Where the Wind Leads is the kind of book that goes past one’s stomach and directly into the soul.

The not-so-positive:

While Where the Wind Leads generally handles its Christians themes very well-contemplative rather than condescending, love-focused rather than preachy–some of the early scenes depicting Stan Mooneyham’s tenure as World Vision president loom larger than life. While Chung’s own family is presented as real, living people with faults and merits, Mooneyham and his crew receive a hero’s welcome. They remain caricatures of superheroes rather than humanized representations. While Chung’s gratitude to Mooneyham is understandable (Chung is donating his share of author royalties to World Vision), the flattened characters take away from the story.

Also, some of the earlier “Dear Reader”-type explanations miss their mark. The book is obviously marketed to an audience presumed to be unfamiliar with Vietnam and Asian cultures, but the concept of filial piety is not so foreign as the narrator would have us believe.

Conclusion:

Where the Wind Leads tells a story of love, redemption, and finding our worth. It is a life-affirming journey, a showering of grace, and a rip-roaring adventure. Highly recommended for all audiences, not just Christian.

 

  1. Content refers to the themes and structure of the book. For fiction, this includes macro elements such as the book’s premise, character arcs, and how well the conflict and resolution fulfill the promise of the book. For non-fiction, this refers to the information that is conveyed.
  2. Craft refers to the level of writing technique, ranging from clarity of text to carefully edited prose.
  3. Christian themes refers to the application of Biblical principles as well as the understanding and application of Christian theology.
    .
    Additional note: The combined score generally is a mathematical average of the three ratings, unless an individual rating is especially low or high.
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3 thoughts on “Where the Wind Leads book review: Humor, adventure, and life affirmation

  1. annapurna1951 May 4, 2014 at 12:14 pm Reply

    You have delivered another eye-opening review, Ana. With your frantic schedule, I don’t know how you manage it, but no matter how you accomplish all the reading and writing you do, thank you so very much for sharing your insights.

    I lived with a Vietnamese family for three years. They were not Christian, but life-long followers of Thích Nhất Hạnh, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thich_Nhat_Hanh). They, the D-family (not their real last name), came to California after the fall of South Viet Nam in 1975. The mother, O, was rescued from the CIA headquarters in Saigon on April 29 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fall_of_Saigon) and was eventually taken to San Diego with her two sons, where all three slept in an open football field for three nights.

    Her husband, J, a lieutenant in the South Vietnamese Signal Corps, managed to bribe his way onto a fishing trawler, where he subsequently jumped ship at sea and was picked up by the U.S. Navy.

    Over the next thirty years, O and J, got jobs, and operated a pizza parlor for many years in San Jose, while their sons became software engineers. O is now retired and her sons are married. J died of cancer three years ago, caused by his exposure to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD), an extremely toxic dioxin compound of Agent Orange. The U.S. Air Force sprayed this defoliate over the jungles of Viet Nam to remove (in vein) the tropical foliage so the Air Force could spot, and then kill the Viet Cong from the air.

    On three occasions with O and J, I had an opportunity to sit in the presence of Thích Nhất Hạnh. It’s easy to see how others might consider religious leaders, such as Walter Stanley Mooneyham, larger than life. That was my impression of Thích Nhất Hạnh, even though I’m not Buddhist. Hạnh spoke in a carefully measured cadence, using a soft voice, smooth gestures, and significant pauses in his delivery. His expression, calm with eyes faraway, had a palliative effect on me, despite his speaking in Vietnamese, a language I don’t understand. He delivered a homily about family life in California (I had a translated copy) and emphasized the importance of keeping an open mind while living in the present moment. The old ways of back home, he said, would not be effective or appropriate in the new American environment. Instead, he urged compassion and forbearance.

    This and other encounters with Hạnh, plus reading his book, Old Path, White Clouds, helped reaffirm my Catholic traditions of childhood.

  2. annapurna1951 May 4, 2014 at 1:20 pm Reply

    My response to your book review, a reasonable one I feel, is under moderation, both interesting and surprising.

    I have no other way of contacting you, so I will post here once again.

    I was censured on Catholic Answers for my response to Papal Infallibility. Sorry, but Popes are fallible, including Pope Francis. History shows that.

    I’m censured here because I mentioned that Thích Nhất Hạnh helped reaffirm my Catholic traditions (as opposed to beliefs). Let me also add, I’ve reaffirmed my fetish proclivities, which, by the way, prohibit me from receiving the Eucharist and leave me excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

    I feel quite comfortable with exile and ostracism. In that spirit, this will be my last post.

  3. Roz Harrison May 5, 2014 at 7:20 am Reply

    Wow Ana, a very thorough, in depth and balanced review. So this is how to write a ‘proper’review :) Thank you for sharing this. It sounds like a fascinating read.

    Hugs
    Roz

Thank you so much for joining the discussion! Please play nicely or you may be asked to stand in the corner. ;)

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