The author, who is the narrator and protagonist of the memoir, calls her mother and father "Ma" and "Bo." She explores her family’s history during their years in Vietnam—where both parents were born and grew up—a refugee camp in Malaysia, and the United States, where they finally settled.
The Vietnam War created most of the couple’s hardships, as they struggled to escape the violence and devastation. Bo also had firm memories of the hard times during World War II. He was well-off in childhood. He suffered emotionally because his father was away fighting with the liberation front, the Viet Minh, in the movement for independence from France. In contrast, Ma’s family was wealthy as well as progressive, so she was allowed to study to become a teacher; the couple met in college.
Although the war ended, their difficulties did not. By then, the couple had three children, and Ma was pregnant again. The family fled the country along with thousands of other “boat people” who tried to escape the chaos and repression of the post-war, reunited country. They reached Malaysia and spent months in a refugee camp, where the baby was born. Their efforts to be resettled finally came to fruition, and they were allowed to immigrate to the United States, where some relatives already lived. Adjustment to this new life was challenging for the adults. Both of them were experienced teachers but had no qualifications to teach in California, where they now lived, or enough money to return to school. They took low-wage jobs to support the children.