Paperbacks: War Child, By Juliet Lac

Mainstream, £10.99
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The Independent Culture

Juliet Lac's autobiography begins with a bang. When she was five years old, her street in Saigon was hit during a Vietcong missile attack – the first in a series of miraculous escapes in this self-styled "story of survival".

She survives poverty and danger during the Vietnam war; a dreadful escape by boat on a sort of floating Black Hole of Calcutta; and months in a refugee camp in Malaysia, before being granted permission to migrate to the United States.

When Lac is reliving her childhood there is an immediacy about the writing; later, it becomes self-analytical in the most banal way ("However, I still had several issues to deal with"). As a scared child she never pitied herself and the reader is given the space to do so, but her adolescence and adult life is a litany of complaint, about the difficulties of settling in a foreign land, her unsatisfactory mother and her selfish husband. She acknowledges this: "I realise I might come across as the kind of person who would feel sorry for herself whatever happened". I'm afraid she's right. Hers is an admirable story of courage and success. But she needed a bit more help from her editors to make this an admirable book.