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  • Writer's pictureCaleb Teal

Book Review: The Illiterate Daughter by Chia Gounza Vang


As seen of Amazon

In war torn Laos, thirteen-year-old Nou daydreams of the legendary heroes and mythical beings who live in the folklore stories she loves to hear. Remembering them helps her ignore physical pain as she struggles through the endless chores expected of a dutiful daughter. Each night, she examines the two books given to her by her ex-soldier father and prays for an end to the Vietnam War. Only peace will allow her to attend school and learn to read the secrets locked inside her wondrous books. In a late-night Communist attack on her village, Nou’s home, books, and illusion of safety are lost in the deadly flames and rifle fire that follow. Although her family escapes into the jungle, they leave behind unknown numbers of dead and missing friends and neighbors. As her father desperately searches for a place to rebuild their home, he learns that the Communist soldiers who control the country are intent upon killing any man who fought alongside the Americans. Nou’s family must flee their homeland or live under constant threat of imprisonment and torture. But escape from Laos requires a guide able to smuggle large numbers of refugees through the jungle’s high mountain passes and across the Mekong River into Thailand, routes watched by patrols instructed to shoot to kill. While the number of dead who litter their escape route increases, Nou increasingly draws upon her “worthless” folklore heroes for help in getting her surviving family members closer to freedom.

My Review

The Illiterate Daughter is the debut novel by Chia Gounza Vang. It is a historical fiction story documenting the escape from the war torn country of Laos in the 1970s after the Secret War. It’s a story of tragedy, but hope. The book made me cry more times that I can count, and I am deeply in love with the story.

The book speaks to be deeply, as someone who always believed in empowering both women and youth, this book really made me feel good, as its from the point of view of a teenage girl in a culture where there are heavy gender roles that don’t always give women that chance to be who they want to be. In this book, the main character Nou accompanies her family as they try again and again to survive, and escape a country where they are in far too much danger. And more and more through the book Nou become more responsible for the family, eventually becoming the young guardian for them. I can’t say too much without spoiling the book, but I will say it is an incredible journey.

The book clearly brings the culture, circumstances, and situations to an English audience, who may not know much about that part of the world, or that point in history. It does so in a way that is educational and informative, without taking anything away from the story. It guides the readers along, as if they know nothing about any of this, yet at the same time doing it in the most natural way possible. It’s beautiful, and seamless, and I love it. It also opens ups the reader’s eyes to how much of a sheltered life we live in, and makes us readers really appreciate the family and lives we have, even if none of them are perfect.

The book is perhaps one of the greatest reads I’ve read this year so far, and I would highly recommend it to any book lovers out there. This book definitely gets a 5 out of 5 stars from me.

On this site I tend to hand out bonus stars. Bonus stars are when an author goes above and beyond what they should do, and does something spectacular and amazing. So lets go over the list of bonus stars:

- Outstanding level of notable diversity and representation among the characters

- Hooked from the very start

N/A - Extreme in-depth world building

- Big emotional feels

- High Levels of Excitement

- Keep on Guessing

So that's 5 out of 6 Bonus stars.

You can follow the Author on Twitter at @chiagounzavang

That's all from me fellow book lovers.

~ Caleb Teal, Author and Founder

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