Worlds Apart: My Personal Life Journey through Transcultural Poverty, Privilege, and Passion
By: Mai Kim Le
Publisher: Waterside Productions
Publication Date: August 12, 2021
Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott
Review Date: April 19, 2023
Beginning life in a remote, devastated region of war-ravaged Viet Nam, traveling the world and seeking home and solace at last in America, author Mai Kim Le now shares her experiences and her feelings honestly and non-judgmentally in her memoir, Worlds Apart: My Personal Life Journey through Transcultural Poverty, Privilege, and Passion. It is a task that she takes on bravely, encouraging readers “to be more kind, both to others and to ourselves.”
The first year of Le’s life was spent in a kind of horror story, with her father, who had fought alongside the Americans and was therefore a target for the still-extant Viet Cong, trying desperately to get his family and like-minded neighbors out of the country. His plan for the group was to embark in tiny boats, subject to raids and near total starvation as they traveled. After some failed efforts, they wound up in Thailand where they were systematically mistreated. Luck and pluck brought them to the US, living for a time in California where the young girl blossomed, and then in a Boston slum. But her high intelligence and willingness to do almost anything to succeed gave Le a solid grounding; she gradually learned English and excelled in school, although at times she was the victim of fellow students’ bias and scorn. Making friends on her own, with a number of boys quite interested in her, she made her way through a private school, to Bowdoin College and Princeton University and employment with the Social Security Administration and the World Bank, giving her opportunities for solitary travel, an activity that seemed to imbue her with solace and hope. Meeting Arkady, son of European Jewish immigrants, opened a chance for friendship tinged with romance, pointing to a possible partnership both professional and personal.
Le’s recollections are told in a zestful chronology, with extreme frankness, as she recounts her failures and discouragements along with her inner growth and wider understanding. She deftly paints herself in many aspects: as a child raised in poverty; a teen figuring out how the world of gender excitements might work; as a young woman in like and sometimes love, willing to be charmed yet always looking for personal adventure and a path to economic independence, and sometimes disturbed by thoughts of suicide. She offers a series of thought-provoking questions at the end of the book indicating its possible trajectory as a focus for self-help seminars. Her satisfying conclusive declaration will evoke empathy and perhaps hopefulness in her readership: “Now I’m just me.”
Quill says: Le’s vibrant memoir, with its many recognizable feelings entwined in her deprived childhood and her exotic, global travels as a free-thinking adult can serve as inspiration and motivation for readers across a broad spectrum.
For more information on Worlds Apart: My Personal Life Journey through Transcultural Poverty, Privilege, and Passion please visit the author's website at: maikimle.com/