Cover image for Land of smiles
Land of smiles
Huo, T. C.
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Publication Information:
New York : Plume, [2000]

Physical Description:
vi, 215 pages ; 21 cm
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"A remarkable story, a courageous performance, and we're privileged to get it."-- Los Angeles Times

Set in the 1970s, in the era of the Vietnam War and its volatile aftermath, Land of Smiles tells the story of a young Southeast Asian man's journey from a refugee camp in Thailand to a housing project in Oakland, California.The novel opens with a Laotian boy, Boontakone, who swims across the Mekong River, leaving his old life behind, and losing his mother and sister in the process. In a refugee camp in Thailand, Boontakone struggles to decipher the secret codes of his new life. Huo offers a glimpse into a world as highly ordered and dependent on proper observance of social customs and manners as any created by Jane Austen. Eventually Boontakone and his father make their way to America, where the young man will have to sort out impressions as dazzling and puzzling as the American high school, Superman , and Saturday Night Fever .

Balancing a moving account of dislocation and loss with gentle comedy, Land of Smiles is a new classic in the literature of the immigrant experience.

Author Notes

Born in Laos of Chinese descent, T. C. Huo immigrated to the United States in 1979. He received a master's degree in creative writing from the University of California at Irvine. Among the writers Huo has studied with are Thomas Keneally, Ethan Canin, and Robert Pinsky. He has received the award for adult fiction from the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association. He is the author of Land of Smiles and A Thousand Wings , and lives in Santa Clara, California.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

When Boontakorn, a pubescent Laotian boy, swims across the Mekong River to Thailand in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, this dangerous passing is only the first step in a long journey toward the mythical Land of Smiles. The boy safely reaches the Lao Refugee Camp in Thailand, but his mother and sister drown in their later attempt to escape; his father and grandmother join him eventually. In the camp, the Laotians create a complex miniature society, providing basic needs, schooling, language instruction and even mating services for the adults, but everyone thinks only about passing the emigration interview. Finally, Boontakorn and his father are permitted to emigrate to San Francisco, where later he learns that the refugee camp burned down after he left; it's another bit of his past that "disappeared from the earth." Now a teenager, Boontakorn's forays into American culture are sympathetically portrayed, his alienation delineated in bittersweet scenarios. He's surprised to learn that he is too young to work legally; he becomes familiar with late 1970s disco music, and struggles with the idiomatic English language. Most of all, he's simultaneously attracted to and repelled by the forwardness of American culture, and finds a sense of place amid San Francisco's burgeoning Asian and Southeast Asian immigrant population. After dropping out of college and becoming a hairdresser, Boontakorn comes full circle when he takes a trip back to Laos with his friend Martha, a Chinese-American anthropologist. At the book's close, this young man comes to terms with the myths and legacies of his heritage, the multifarious and shifting definitions of nationality, of identity and of "home." As a chronicle of an exile's courage, bewilderment and numb longing, Huo's taut but impressively atmospheric second novel (after A Thousand Wings) is a valuable addition to our literature of Asian ethnicity. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved