It was a fantastic evening celebrating the launch of Adrift At Sea: A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival which was a beautiful collaboration by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch, Tuan Ho and illustrator Brian Deines . The event was hosted by Kids Can Fly and it was a full house at the Brantford Station Coffee House and Gallery.
Marsha, a local author, has written 21 books including 19 stories about refugees coming to Canada. She had been interested in writing about the plight of Vietnamese boat people for over a decade. Publishers kept declining this topic, perhaps due to the timing and need for distance from the Vietnam war. She was very pleased when her publisher pitched a story idea about Vietnam. The publisher had been attending physiotherapy with Tuan Ho and when she heard his story, she became interested and introduced him to Marsha.
Tuan introduced his family – there were three generations, his brave parents, he and his 4 sisters and the youngest generation of grandchildren. They had all been granted a better life in Canada due to the bravery of his parents. He described the book as a “dream come true” and a time to share their experience with the next generation.
His father and oldest sister had escaped in 1980 with a plan to set things up in Canada to sponsor the rest of the family. They left in a time before connection through email and texting leaving the family unsure of their safety for months. In 1981, his mother was concerned for their safety due to their father’s involvement with the US Army so she and 2 sisters also also escaped. His mother had to make the difficult decision to leave his youngest sister behind with an aunt and uncle since she was afraid that the 3 year old would not survive the trip.
The left in the night, dodging bullets when getting onto a speed boat, crossing a scary plank to a larger fishing boat and traveling with 60 passengers towards freedom. Tuan, at age 6, remembers the gunshots, the thirst and certain scenes about their experience. Their boat broke down and they were rescued by Americans. They spent time in a refugee camp before being reunited with their father and eldest sister in Saskatoon.
Tuan spoke of the courage of his parents, never knowing if they would see each other again yet “everything we have is because of them“. Once they were reunited, they did not speak of their experiences. They arrived and “life went on”. Five years later, his youngest sister arrived in Canada and the entire family was reunited and lived in Toronto. The family became Canadian citizens in 1985 when Tuan was 10 years old and he recalls teaching his mother the song he learned at school about the provinces.
The audience was moved by the courage of Tuan’s parents, hearing him talk about his experience and by meeting this amazing extended family. Having 4 children of my own, I cannot fathom how difficult it must have been to split up their family or how terrifying it must have been to both escape and to arrive in a new country. Marsha and the entire family signed books and chatted with the readers.
Overall it was a great evening with the St. George Girl Guides doing a fantastic job volunteering as greeters and passing out snacks to the audience. Marsha sold a large number of books and generously donated the proceeds from tonight’s sales to the Brant Anglican Sponsorship Group to support a Syrian refugee family who arrived in Brantford this summer. I am happy to have my own copy – signed by Marsha and all of the family members.
I hurried home to read more about the experience. The book is written in a way that it can teach children without scaring them. It will spark questions and discussion. It made me want to research the Vietnamese Boat People and according to the Government of Canada website, more than 60,000 Vietnamese refugees were welcomed to Canada. Sadly the Canadian Encyclopedia sites that over a third of those escaped did not survive the trip on overcrowded boats.
If you are looking for more great historical fiction to read or to share with your children, check out these reviews of other books that I have read by Marsha.
And from my original blog site: