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Math prof set to release second memoir about Vietnam escape

When Phuong (Amy) Hoang finished her first manuscript about her family’s escape from Vietnam in the 1980s, she had enough words to fill an entire book. 

But it wasn’t the full story.

With the release this month of her second book, Three Funerals for My Father: Love, Loss and Escape from Vietnam, the Niagara College math professor can now say the telling of her family’s journey from the communist Southeast Asian country to Canada is complete. 

“There was so much more to my story,” Hoang said. “At the time (I wrote the first book), I wasn’t ready to talk about the second escape attempt. I wasn’t ready to talk about my time in a refugee camp.”

But she was ready in 2019 to talk about her family’s efforts to leave their homeland for a better life, and tell the story through the eyes of her late father, who died during a third and final attempt to get out of Vietnam. 

The result was her award-winning debut book, Anchorless, in which Hoang details the first and third times her family tries to flee Vietnam, both of which her father was involved with. 

During the first attempt, her family lost their entire fortune. The second attempt saw Hoang escape with five of her 10 siblings and her sister-in-law. The third took the life of her father and youngest sister. 

Hoang’s escape and the aftermath, which included nine days on a boat and 14 months in an Indonesian refugee camp before coming to Canada, was left out of Anchorless because her father wasn’t there.

However, in Three Funerals for My Father, she shares the harrowing story, telling it from both her perspective and that of her dad’s ghost.

The front cover of a book with beige and hunter green colours
Three Funerals for My Father: Love, Loss and Escape from Vietnam, is Phuong (Amy) Hoang’s second book.

Hoang, who goes by the pen name Jolie Phuong Hoang in honour of her pet name growing up, said writing Three Funerals for My Father was a duty more than an achievement to be celebrated.

“This book will be with the next Hoang generations so they can learn about their family history,” she said. “Completing this book is more like a responsibility. I’m happy the book is finished. The story was always there, embedded in my soul. I am thankful that words have created a path for me to preserve family history.”

It’s a story that’s inside millions of others who call Canada home, too, Hoang noted. 

“I wanted to put a voice to refugees as well. It’s not just my family who was on that boat. Others suffered more. There were so many other refugees as well,” she said.

“Around the world, human displacement is still an issue. I hope this book will reinforce the fact there are still refugees and behind every smile of every newcomer, perhaps there are pain and sorrow.”

Hoang will be further underscoring that point during the official launch of Three Funerals for My Father, published by Tidewater Press, on Saturday, Oct. 23 at 1 p.m. 

The event, happening on Zoom, will feature an introduction by Judy Smith. Smith is the Canadian woman who sponsored Hoang’s immigration to Canada in 1984. 

Hoang, who has been teaching math at Niagara College for 25 years, will also be interviewed by former CBC journalist Hilary Brown. A foreign correspondent during her time with the public broadcaster, Brown covered the Vietnam War on the ground. 

The Zoom launch is by invitation only. Those wanting to attend can email Hoang for access to the event.

Producing Three Funerals for My Father was a family affair. Hoang’s second daughter, Christie Tran, did the front-cover illustration. Her youngest daughter, Charlotte Tran did the back cover and interior illustrations. 

Now that her family’s story is told, Hoang is keen to set to work on her third book, a fictional tale about three Vietnamese-Canadian women “whose lives are coincidentally connected through struggling to rebuild their lives. Trauma of the past and deep hidden secrets are revealed by the daughter of one of the women.”

The story builds on what Hoang writes as the voice of Death in Chapter 20 of Three Funerals for My Father. 

She has about a third of the manuscript already written. But with teaching and serving as mathematics co-ordinator for the College this year, Hoang admitted it’s hard to find the words to write sometimes. 

“It’s all math now,” she said. “I’m just waiting for the words.”

Three Funerals for My Father is for sale online at major book retailers or through Tidewater Press

Hoang will have signed copies for sale at the Pelham Public Library in advance of a virtual author’s event on Nov. 30.