In 1975 Nguyen's mother tried to get her family out of the country at the last minute, but a series of circumstances that must be read to appreciate led to disaster on the roof of the U.S. Embassy, just as the North Vietnamese army marched into Saigon. From there, every step became one of survival.
Nguyen's mother, siblings, and grandparents are "unwanted" because of his mother's entrepreneurial success (including banking) before the take-over by the Communists, and his grandfather's service in the South Vietnamese army. He and his younger brother are additionally "unwanted" by the culture at large and his aunt's family, in particular, because they are "half-breeds."
Several of the scenes in this memoir recall novelized versions of Communism's impact on family life as told in Wild Ginger, down to working at a fish market in bitter weather, often for very small pieces of change. His mother turns to exchanging her personal favors for help for her family, sells her blood to raise funds, and tries to start a little business in textiles, with very difficult consequences for the children when she is caught, and they are alone for many days. The nail-biting scenes at the end, as the family is granted permission to leave but must have several documents signed by petty officials, kept me up way past my bedtime in order to find out how they managed to meet the flight.