Writing Alumna Kao Kalia Yang ’05 Publishes 'Where Rivers Part'

Mădălina Telea Borteș
March 26, 2024

Writing alumna Kao Kalia Yang ’05 has published Where Rivers Part (Simon and Schuster, 2024), a memoir that centers her family’s escape from the genocidal attacks on the Hmong people, resulting from the U.S. Army’s involvement in Laos. 

To tell this story, Yang chronicled the life of her mother, Tswb, who was instrumental in ensuring the family’s survival. “By myself, I sat in front of my computer and simultaneously translated her perspective and built the world that she inhabited bit by bit,” Yang said. “It was at times grueling, but I knew that I had to push through and return my mother back into the arms of her mother in that long ago jungle in Laos where I know the spirit of her mother waits for her on the other side of life,” Yang explained. 

“I wrote this book to claim the legacy of the woman I come from, the women who had to define for themselves what it meant to live in a world where luck was not on their side,” Yang noted. 

The memoir has already received great praise, including a spot on Esquire Magazine's list of Best Memoirs of 2024, where it was lauded as “a sensitive, unforgettable account of one mother’s immeasurable strength and love for her family.”

“Before her birth, the U.S. Army recruited Hmong men to fight in the alleged war against communism,” Kirkus Reviews relayed in recent coverage. “When the Americans left, the local Lao government began to persecute Hmong families for their support of enemy troops, forcing many Hmong—including Tswb’s family—to adopt a nomadic life in the jungle, hiding from violent governmental retribution.” 

Kao Kalia Yang was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and came to America at the age of six. She is the author of The Latehomecomer, The Song Poet, Yang Warriors, and most recently, Where Rivers Part. She also co-edited What God Is Honored Here? and is the author of a collective memoir about refugee lives called Somewhere in the Unknown World. She is a graduate of the Creative Writing Program at Columbia University.