by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Before I begin this review proper, let me take a quick moment to talk about the act of weeping and how it affects my opinion of books that I read. Let’s start with the dissent. If a book makes the reader cry, that is an interaction between the text and that particular, specific reader. One book cannot make all readers cry; therefore tear-jerking is an unstable, unscientific measure of a book’s worth. Moreover, the reader is the true variable here, so the act of crying while reading says much more about the reader’s fragile emotional state than the text’s ability to bring out emotions. Moreover-moreover, champions of literature have worked very hard to legitimize literature as a valid field of interest and study, moving away from theories where books are judged by their intangible, inscrutable, dare I say, magical ability to evoke emotion in the reader. Moreover-moreover-moreover, moving away from relating emotion and literature is especially important when examining and discussing books for children, because children’s literature is still only marginally accepted as something worth studying. Also, children’s literature stirs up a lot of emotions in most people – nostalgia, bad memories from English class, hatred, etc – so it’s important to counter that tendency.
That being said, this book made me cry. This book made me cry like a little girl. And despite everything I just said up there, I think that means something. Not a big something, but a something.
Last Airlift is a young child’s account of her own adoption in the 1960s. Tuyet lived in an orphanage in Vietnam until she was eight years old, where she went to school, slept with hundreds of other children on the floor, and cared for the many babies left orphaned by the Vietnam War. For years, she watched the other children leave, never to return, but polio had crippled her leg, so she didn’t think she would ever be one of them.
Let that sink in for a second: she knew she would never be loved or have a family and was okay with that WHEN SHE WAS EIGHT YEARS OLD.
Luckily for Tuyet, though, an adoption group would make one last airlift from Vietnam to Canada, and Tuyet was chosen to come along, and she was adopted. This book is slim, sparsely narrated, and describes just the few weeks of the adoption process and into her new home. This is not an autobiography, but you can tell that the author has close ties to Tuyet, conducting extensive interviews or just having conversations; the attention to Tuyet’s perspective is sensitive, spot on, and perfect. Nothing terribly exciting happens to Tuyet, the suspense is minimal, the most tense moments involve car sickness and hiding food at the dinner table. Unassuming. Quiet.
But yet, as I neared the 100th page, tears just rolled down my cheeks. Maybe tears don’t make a book any good, but if you can get make me cry with such few words, such mundane subject matter, without resorting to melodrama or Nicholas Sparks bullshit and without any plot whatsoever? Kudos to you!