Refugee Stories from Asia

These stories focus on Asia and include memoirs and novels about refugees of Cambodian, Vietnamese, Burmese, and Hmong origin.

Due to the violent nature of the conflicts described, we encourage you to review titles carefully before recommending them or using them in the classroom.

See our Refugee Experiences section for:

  • Titles from other regions
  • Titles for younger readers
  • Guidance for supporting refugee students

All the Broken Pieces

Age Level: 12-14

Product Description: Two years after being airlifted out of war-torn Vietnam, Matt Pin is haunted: by bombs that fell like dead crows, by the family — and the terrible secret — he left behind. Now, inside a caring adoptive home in the United States, a series of profound events force him to choose between silence and candor, blame and forgiveness, fear and freedom. By turns harrowing, dreamlike, sad, and triumphant, this searing debut novel, written in lucid verse, reveals an unforgettable perspective on the lasting impact of war and the healing power of love.

Bamboo People

Age Level: 12-14

While his father is in prison for treating a leader of the democracy movement, 15-year-old Chiko is drafted into the Burmese military. Trained to fight the rebel Karenni people, Chiko soon finds himself at the mercy of a young Karenni rebel fighter whose village was attacked by Burmese soldiers. Will the two remain enemies?

Children of the River

Age Level: 14-16

"Seventeen-year-old Sundara is torn between her Cambodian family's expectations and her desire to become more American now that she has been forced to relocate along with her aunt's family following the rise to power of the Khmer Rouge…The captivating, touching, and sometimes tragic story by Linda Crew (Delacorte, 1989) touches upon issues of culture, history, gender, and race wrapped around an engaging romance." — Library Journal

Escape from Saigon: How a Vietnam War Orphan Became an American Boy

Age Level: 12-14

Product Description: Over a million South Vietnamese children were orphaned by the Vietnam War. This affecting true account tells the story of Long, who, like more than 40,000 other orphans, is Amerasian — a mixed-race child — with little future in Vietnam. Escape from Saigon allows readers to experience Long's struggle to survive in war-torn Vietnam, his dramatic escape to America as part of "Operation Babylift" during the last chaotic days before the fall of Saigon, and his life in the United States as "Matt," part of a loving Ohio family.

In the Shadow of the Banyan: A Novel

Age Level: 16-18

Product Description: For seven-year-old Raami, the shattering end of childhood begins with the footsteps of her father returning home in the early dawn hours, bringing details of the civil war that has overwhelmed the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital. Soon the family's world of carefully guarded royal privilege is swept up in the chaos of revolution and forced exodus.

Inside Out and Back Again

Age Level: 9-12

Shortly before the fall of Saigon in 1975, Hà's family flees war-torn Vietnam. When they arrive in Alabama more than 3 months later as refugees, they struggle to adapt to a new life. Yet slowly Hà and her family begin to find their way, making friends in unexpected places and helping each other survive. Based on the childhood experiences of the author, this compelling novel won the 2011 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

Age Level: 14-16

This non-fiction account of a medical crisis in the Hmong community is as compelling as any novel. When baby Lia is born to a Hmong family, she shows signs of possibly epilepsy. Conflicting medical opinions between the traditional Hmong and the American medical establishment show that neither side is completely right.

Weeping Under This Same Moon

By: Jana Laiz
Age Level: 14-16

Based on a true story, Weeping Under This Same Moon alternates between the different perspectives of Hannah, an American teen who feels herself at odds with her family and the world, and Mei, a young artist of Chinese origin forced to flee ethnic and political persecution in Vietnam. Hannah, passionate about saving the whales and the environment, turns her energy to helping refugees after learning about the plight of the "Boat People." Their stories come together as Hannah and Mei become friends and help each other heal and hope.

When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge

Age Level: 16-18

Product Description: In the Cambodian proverb, "when broken glass floats" is the time when evil triumphs over good. That time began in 1975, when the Khmer Rouge took power in Cambodia and the Him family began their trek through the hell of the "killing fields." Yet through the terror, Chanrithy's family remains loyal to one another despite the Khmer Rouge's demand of loyalty only to itself. In 1979, "broken glass" finally sinks and the surviving children begin their new lives in a land that promises welcome to those starved for freedom.