South Wind Changing

Jade Ngoc Quang Huynh

Graywolf Press




305 Pages



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A Time magazine "Best Book" of the Year

This is the compelling personal narrative of Jade Ngoc Quang Huynh, who was born in South Vietnam in 1958 and survived the war to become a university student in 1974. But because the Hanoi government policy was to persecute writers, intellectuals, and any suspected enemies of the state, Huynh was sent to a labor camp.

South Wind Changing presents the riveting story of Huynh's early existence, his escape from Vietnam, his time in a Thai refugee camp, and the eventual new life he was able to carve out for himself in the U.S. Here, where he first learned English while working at McDonald's, he finally completed his education. In this well-written Asian-American memoir we encounter a remarkable life of struggle and survival, dreams and determination, imperialism and immigration, and other such twentieth-century-defining experiences.


Praise for South Wind Changing

"[The author] tells movingly of surviving a Marxist re-education camp and escaping Vietnam by boat. His adventures in the U.S. included earning a bachelor's degree at Bennington College and learning the rhythms of English well enough to write this haunting, oddly pastoral memoir."—Time

"An unlikely, powerful blending of lyricism with straightforward descriptions of cruelty . . . A rare record of one Southeast Asian among the anonymous millions who lived to tell the tale."—The New York Times Book Review

"Tragic, sometimes thrilling, but terrifying life of a young Vietnamese whose woes abroad have nonetheless landed him in the U.S., where he graduated from Bennington and in 1992 received an MFA from Brown . . . Huynh's 12 childhood years on the Mekong Delta went by like a dream compared with the hell that befell his family of 17 children when the Tet offensive exploded on New Year's 1968. Then, between the black-pajamaed Viet Cong psychopaths threatening the Huynhs and the American choppers shooting up the delta, Jade and his family found themselves swimming from one wave of horror to the next—through bursting bullets, mined roads, and sharpened stakes—while attempting to reach a second family dwelling in Vinh Binh City. Once there, they had nothing, while the war went on 'like a chronic disease.' Eventually, Jade lost six brothers and sisters as well as other family members. At 18, he was attending Saigon University when the city fell to the invaders, and he soon found himself facing indoctrination, then being sent to a labor camp simply for being a student. There, he was given explosively dangerous work clearing mines, was tortured and lived among men tortured incessantly, starved, ate lizards, rats, and crickets to stay alive, watched men murdered by proselytizers for Ho Chi Minh, buried the dead, built dikes for rice fields, and hoped for a Cambodian invasion in which he might escape during the confusion. After three years, he escapeed and ended up in a refugee camp. A lost brother, a pilot whom he thought dead, turned out to be alive in Mississippi, sent money, and told him to relocate in the States. He learned English flipping Big Macs at McDonald's, and at last began his U.S. education. Amid nature's beauty, hope survives an incredible bloodbath."—Kirkus Reviews

"South Wind Changing testifies to the bewildered anguish of the victims of war and to Huynh's survival and escape to America. In his search for a new place in this new world (so intimately involved with the destruction of the old), Huynh encounters discrimination, indifference, and—at last—kindness and a second chance. The end of his story is this story by the fine writer that Huynh has become."—Elle

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Jade Ngoc Quang Huynh

  • Jade Ngoc Quang Huynh was born in 1957 in the Mekong Delta region of South Vietnam. He attended Saigon University in 1974 until the North Vietnamese Army took control of the south in 1975. After enduring a year of inhuman conditions and torture in a labor camp, he managed to escape and finally reached a refugee camp in Thailand. In 1978, Huynh flew to the United States. Since his arrival, he has worked in a series of factory and cleaning jobs, completed his B.A. at Bennington College, and received an M.F.A. from Brown University.