Thursday, May 08, 2014

Review: Where the Wind Leads: A Refugee Family’s Miraculous Story of Loss, Rescue, and Redemption

  • Print Length: 341 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0849947561
  • Publisher: Thomas Nelson (April 22, 2014)
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Christian Publishing

Vinh Chung with Tim Downs
Foreword by Richard Stearns, President of World Vision

Lately, I’ve noticed something quite interesting in my reading of spiritual memoirs and it’s this. Quite a few modern memoirs published by Christian publishers deal with Christianity only as a side issue.  In fact, while I’ve learned much modern history from Christian memoirs, I sometimes feel that the explorations of the memoirist’s spirituality were a bit lacking. I sometimes think this happens because of the ghostwriter or writer the story is written “with.”  

“Where the Wind Leads” is such a memoir. Honestly, back in college and high school in the 70’s, I knew the ins and outs of World War II and quite a bit about World War I but I had no knowledge about how the Korean War or the Vietnam War started.

Anyone wishing to understand the regional politics of Asia, especially South East Asia, from the thirties through the seventies should definitely read this memoir. not only does it show the politics of those decades but it details much of the culture as well. This history is told through the family history of the Chungs -- their marriages, financial rise, fall, rise, fall, and rise, their survival through tribal, political, and ideological conflicts, and of course their lives as refugees and victims -- and profiteers-- during war.

The story goes through three generations, with the mothers being portrayed as strong survivors even while life or their position as women caused them to be victims of their husbands, their society, in-laws, and soldiers. There are also moments of Providence and incredible kindness as well, including one instance which becomes a seed that helped the family become Christians. There are small powerful moments when the mother and the father connect to God their Creator. But on the whole, this is not a spiritual memoir.

Perhaps I’m a bit jaded but I did find myself wondering how much of the parents’ and grandparent’s history was true. The first part of the memoir is basically heard second-hand so I found myself taking the story about the evil jealous first wife (and the noble second wife) and the conniving poor mistress with more than a grain of salt. One is also aware throughout that this is the history of the fall of rich people. . .so of course, paragraphs about their kindness toward their workers is also suspect. I know most Christians tend to take these stories at face value but I get very cynical. Whether those stories were embellished or sanitized to make the author’s female ancestors more noble than they are doesn’t matter, the first part of the memoir is in my opinion the best. Descriptions of the daily life in Vietnamese Villages and the depiction of survival in a war-torn country make the book a must for both fans of war memoir and Asian twentieth century history.     

I’m never sure about how much writing is done in memoirs by those who write “with” the main characters in a memoir. I found the writing style of the book typical of Christian non-fiction. For better or worse, it felt too familiar even though it was well-written. I didn’t feel I was hearing an authentic voice but someone who used the typical stylings of American non-fiction to tell a very extraordinary story.  I also got to learn a lot about World Vision International and their noble work with refugees.

Some books are Christian in passing; conversion, spirituality, and relationship with God being only a side-dish. Where the Wind Leads is like that. It is primarily a family history and personal memoir. And it is secondarily a tribute to the work of World Vision.  

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