Somewhere in the Unknown World
A Collective Refugee Memoir
All over this country, there are refugees. But beyond the headlines, few know who they are, how they live, or what they have lost. Although Minnesota is not known for its diversity, the state has welcomed more refugees per capita than any other, from Syria to Bosnia, Thailand to Liberia. Now, with nativism on the rise, Kao Kalia Yang—herself a Hmong refugee—has gathered stories of the stateless who today call the Twin Cities home.
Here are people who found the strength and courage to rebuild after leaving all they hold dear. Awo and her mother, who escaped from Somalia, reunite with her father on the phone every Saturday, across the span of continents and decades. Tommy, born in Minneapolis to refugees from Cambodia, cannot escape the war that his parents carry inside. As Afghani flees the reach of the Taliban, he seeks at every stop what he calls a certificate of his humanity. Mr. Truong brings pho from Vietnam to Frogtown in St. Paul, reviving a crumbling block as well as his own family.
In Yang’s exquisite, necessary telling, these fourteen stories of refugee journeys restore history and humanity to America's strangers and redeem its long tradition of welcome.
Praise for Somewhere in the Unknown World
"Exceptional . . . This is an important collection of voices and experiences."—Ms. Magazine
"Affecting . . . Yang offers glimpses of lives before, of escapes, of stopovers, of arrivals, of transformation . . . These voices . . . provide an intimate window into once faraway lives, now intertwined together in a community they call home."—Shelf Awareness
“Kao Kalia Yang has long used her own voice and refugee story to create transcendent literature. With Somewhere in the Unknown World, she brings us many voices whose powerful, individual tales converge in one state to create a prism of humanity. In a time when the term ‘refugee’ is so often flat and faceless, this is an essential book of poetic beauty and social witness.”—Sarah Smarsh, author of Heartland
"Kao Kalia Yang raises a mirror to her home state of Minnesota and a kaleidoscope of refugee stories comes tumbling out. This is a book that burns with personal accounts of survival. But it’s also a reminder that we, as a nation, will never know where we’re going until we understand where each and every one of us has come from."—Moustafa Bayoumi, author of How Does It Feel to Be a Problem
"As borders are closing against refugees and derogatory stereotypes are promulgated by nativists, Kao Kalia Yang’s delicate, respectful book is especially welcome. With masterful concision, Yang presents these refugees’ lives with a poignant honesty that puts prejudice to shame and opens doors to the heart."—Helen Benedict, author of Wolf Season
“Somewhere in the Unknown World is an offering from the heart, a memoir of hope. You do not just read the stories in this beautiful work, you belong to them. You fear for the children when the rebels attack. You weep for the sisters left on the other side of the river. You smile at a family reunited after too many years apart. These are the unseen lives of our neighbors, drivers, receptionists, and classmates, and this book should be required reading at a time when refugees are often misunderstood. Yang’s is a voice we all need to hear more."—Kirsty Gladfelter, Senior Director, International Rescue Committee
“With grace and empathy, Yang reaches to the heart of each of these fourteen tales of refugees in Minnesota and connects them to her own past and future. Reading this book is like watching an explosion of texture and color as ordinary people place their formative stories in the hands of an artist and fellow refugee who weaves them into a single elegant tapestry.”—Dina Nayeri, The Ungrateful Refugee
"A work of technical as well as empathetic mastery . . . The stories are as powerful as they are unique, and Yang makes the wise decision to let her subjects express themselves . . . Yang's delicate touch allows us to see what is right in front of us: luck."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Lyrical . . . This heartfelt and exquisitely written account shines a poignant light on the immigration debate."—Publishers Weekly
Read an Excerpt
From Irina to Irene
ANY PASSERBY CAN tell you that Irina has dark hair and dark eyes, but if you look carefully at her, you’ll see that Irina’s thick hair is a deep auburn and that her eyes are a blend of brown...