Part I: "Saigon"
Tet is the first day of the lunar calendar. This year, 1975, is the Year of the Cat, and on Tet, everyone eats delectable treats and wears new clothes. Mother says that the way the children act today foretells the way things will be for the whole year, which is important, especially now. The Americans have just left Vietnam, and the war is coming ever closer to their home in Saigon.
Kim Ha is ten, and is learning embroidery and fractions. Her strong spirit is a little bit rebellious, and she loves the papaya tree which grows in the backyard of her house. Kim Ha, or Ha for short, was named after the Golden River. She has three older brothers who torment her. Brother Khoi is fourteen, Brother Vu is eighteen, and Brother Quang is twenty-one. The children live with Mother, whom Ha loves even more than her precious papaya tree. Nine years ago, Father left home on a Navy mission, was captured, and has not been heard from since. Everyone prays for his safe return.
Mother works as a secretary, and makes baby clothes at night to sell. It is hard for her to earn enough money to support the family. Brother Quang goes to college, and Brother Khoi has a hen who lays an egg every day and a half. The family takes turns eating the eggs, and are thankful for them, because food is not always easy to come by.
Even though everyone in Vietnam celebrates their birthday at Tet, April tenth is Ha's real birthday, and on that day, she gets to make a wish. Ha wishes for stories, so Mother tells her about her idyllic girlhood in the North. Mother was married to Father at age sixteen, then Ho Chi Minh came to power and everyone's future changed. The country was divided, and Mother and Father moved South, away from Communism. The rest of Mother's family did not come quickly enough, however, and the door between the two parts of the country closed, separating them, perhaps forever.
As the war approaches the city, sirens scream frequently, and school is closed a month too soon. Mother knows what will happen when the Communists come, but the family is divided as to whether they should leave. Then, in late April, the President resigns, and Uncle Son, who was in the same Navy class as Father, comes and tells the family to be ready to flee. Mother sews packs for everyone, and chooses ten photographs to take with her. Ha packs a battered doll among her clothes, and Brother Vu picks the...
(The entire section is 2657 words.)
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