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What I'm Reading

Refugee's stories have been a large part of my reading since I decided to write down my parents' refugee journey. Of the dozens I've read there are two that I would particularly recommend: German Boy: A Child in War (by Wolfgang W. E. Samuel) and The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir (by Kao Kalia Yang).

The first set in post World War II Germany, vividly and with incredible detail covers the experiences of pre-teen Wolfgang Samuel and his broken family in their daily fight for survival as they suffer arbitrary arrest, rape, hunger, and constant fear. Wolfgang quickly leaves childhood behind as he watches his mother's indomitable spirit, even when forced to exchange sex for food to keep her family alive. In the end, the Samuels come to America where Wolfgang has an impressive career in the Air Force.

In the second, Kao Kalia Yang lyrically relates the moving story of her family from the war-torn jungles of Laos, to the overcrowded Thailand refugee camp, and ultimately to the United States, beautifully weaving in Hmong folklore and culture. Even after settling in Minnesota, the family continues to struggle as they adapt to a new world - a world that often does not understand nor welcome them.

These books helped me ponder the universality of the refuge experience in living through cataclysmic change, struggling to survive while seeking a homeland, and adapting to a new world. What traits did the Samuels, the Yangs, and my parents have in common that helped them succeed?

My Flag Grew Stars: World War II Refugees' Journey to America, capturing the story of my parents Olga and Tibor Zoltai, has just become available on Amazon.com. Their world destroyed in the war, teenagers Olga and Tibor flee Hungary - Olga minutes ahead of advancing Russian troops and Tibor conscripted by the Germans almost dies as an American Prisoner of War. Their experiences on the losing side provide a unique perspective of war, the actions of Americans, and the daily fight of refugees to survive. Immigrating as indentured agricultural servants, they unite, embarking on a cultural journey to become Americans. Through perseverance and creativity, they learn how to thrive, Tibor as a world-renowned professor at the University of Minnesota and Olga counseling refugees, earning the title "area immigrants' patron saint."

For more information, come to the IHRC celebration of the book's release on December 1, 2009 or visit http://kittygogins.books.officelive.com. A talk at the celebration will relate how Olga leveraged her own refugee experience to help newer refugees through her work at the International Institute.

Kitty Gogins, Chair of the Roseville Area School Board