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


An unforgettable true story of an orphan caught in the midst of war

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 ...

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

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An unforgettable true story of an orphan caught in the midst of war

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. Finally, as a young doctor, he journeys back to Vietnam, ready to reconcile his Vietnamese past with his American present.

As the thirtieth anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War approaches, this compelling account provides a fascinating introduction to the war and the plight of children caught in the middle of it.

Chronicles the experiences of an orphaned Amerasian boy from his birth and early childhood in Saigon through his departure from Vietnam in the 1975 Operation Babylift and his subsequent life as the adopted son of an American family in Ohio.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Warren's (Orphan Train Rider) compelling, emotionally charged account focuses on Long, a boy born in 1966 in a small village in South Vietnam (to a Vietnamese mother and "an unknown American father"). Like the author's daughter, Long was one of 2,300 Vietnamese orphans whom Operation Babylift brought to the U.S. The author mines the child's memories to create a sense of his early years in Vietnam, and the impact of war and scarcity on his family. Some of the details may disturb more sensitive readers: Long wakened next to his mother's body after her suicide, and the boy lived with his grandmother until, no longer able to care for him she took him on his seventh birthday to Saigon's Holt Center, whose mission was to help place orphans with American families. The volume contains bright and even heroic moments: Warren describes the boy's relatively comfortable if lonely life at the Center, universal childhood experiences such as a fascination with learning to ride a bike, and the painstaking process of evacuating the orphans to America just before Saigon's fall in 1975. The narrative incorporates much sobering information, including the crash of the first Operation Babylift flight soon after takeoff. The tone of the tale brightens as Warren anecdotally writes of Long's adaptation to American life as a member of the Steiner family of Ohio. Dramatic accounts of other Vietnamese and American people's escape from Saigon on the eve of its collapse plus numerous b&w photos round out this informative book and help bring into clear focus the Vietnam War's effects on children. Ages 10-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Continuing her interest in people who are thrust into new situations, such as orphans, prairie wives, and survivors, Warren tells the story to date of young Hoang-V Long, now known as Matt Steiner, an emergency room physician in Indiana. As a child, Long was given up by his grandmother to an orphanage when she could no longer support him. Long was one of the children air-lifted out of Vietnam in the harrowing story of Operation Babylift. Warren covers the Vietnam conflict quickly, concentrating her text on the terrible dilemma of so many orphaned children and the world's efforts to save them. Long/Matt himself contributes considerably to the narrative, family photographs, as well as news photographs from the era, help readers visualize Vietnam life before, during, and after the conflict. Warren interviewed many participants in the babylift, went with Matt, then a doctor, to his old orphanage, and speaks of Matt's difficulties and triumphs in joining a new family and his grief when his adoptive father died. A compelling read, the book reveals much about the outcome of wars to common people and is a comfort to anyone who has had to leave his or her country as a result of war or politics because Matt succeeds in the loving Mennonite family who adopted him in the 1970s. The author brings a specific sympathy to the story as mother of a girl who was another of the 2,300 orphans air-lifted out of Vietnam. It is another fine book from the author of Orphan Train Rider: One Boy's True Story, which received the Boston Globe—Hornbook Award for Nonfiction. 2004, Farrar Straus and Giroux, Ages 9 to 14.
—Susan Hepler, Ph.D.
From The Critics
This touching work chronicles the closing days of American involvement in the Vietnam War and "Operation Babylift," a last-ditch attempt by the American government to save orphaned children in Vietnam before the Communist Army marched into the city. If the children stayed, there would be little hope for survival. Most of the children were of mixed blood, half Vietnamese and half American. Northern Vietnam looked upon these children as having "the blood of the enemy" and would kill them outright. Matt Steiner became one ofthese orphans when his mother committed suicide, and his G.I. father was unknown. His grandmother gave him up to an American agency when she could no longer provide for Matt. Warren pieces a narrative of Matt's early years using what little Matt remembers, and the results are heartbreaking. Matt wrestles with abandonment and the rapidly approaching horrors of war. Warren also chronicles Mr. Steiner's harrowing trip to America and his adjustment to his American family. Escape from Saigon is compelling enough to read in one sitting and stays with you long after you put it down. 2004, Farrar Straus Giroux, 106 pp., Ages young adult.
—Eldridge Tsosie
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
The war in Vietnam may seem like ancient history to YAs today, and the war orphans of that era now are in their 30s; still, there is unfortunately a universality and timelessness in the story of children suffering in war-torn societies, and an inspiration in learning of those who care for and love these children. The author of this book is an American mother of a daughter born in Vietnam and cared for in an orphanage there before coming to America; but for this book, they chose the story of Long (Matt Steiner) because he was nine years old when he came to America, and he can remember his experiences in Vietnam living with his mother, his grandmother, and in the Holt orphanage. Now, Matt Steiner is a doctor who has returned to Vietnam and visited the places he knew as a young child. There are b/w photographs on nearly every page. Some are photographs of Long as a boy in Vietnam and as an American citizen with his American family. The photographs chronicle the basic history of the war and a map of Vietnam is included. The inspiration is the knowledge that rescuing children in dire circumstances is a worthy occupation, whether it's food and love and education and medical care where they are, or whether it's an effort to arrange adoptions for children so they can grow up safely in another place. Matt and the author's daughter are examples of how well children thrive in loving adoptive families. Reviewer: Claire Rosser
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9-Warren relates the story of the 1975 Operation Babylift as seen through the eyes of Long, an eight-year-old Amerasian boy who was part of the airlift. The author uses narrative and reconstructions of conversations from interviews with those involved to trace Long's life, beginning with his indistinct memories of his American father and his more vivid recollections of his Vietnamese mother's suicide and his grandmother's struggle to protect and support him during wartime. She describes his stay at the Saigon orphanage operated by Holt International Children's Services, which housed, schooled, and arranged for his adoption by an American family. Long recalls the fear and excitement during the fall of Saigon, his journey out of Vietnam, his sorrow at the separation from his grandmother, and his emotional transition to his new identity as Matt Steiner. The book concludes with a moving account of Matt's 1995 return to Vietnam, where he finally understood the magnitude of the sacrifice his grandmother made for his safety and future. Photos of Long in both Vietnam and America illustrate the text. Although Warren mentions the cruelties of the communist Vietnamese government and America's abandonment of its South Vietnamese allies, this is a personal story, one that is so well written that it will be sure to hold readers' attention. An outstanding choice.-Mary Mueller, Rolla Junior High School, MO Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The final frantic days of the Vietnam War are recalled through the experiences of one Amerasian orphan. Warren, a skilled documentarian, recounts the story of Long's life, from his birth and early childhood, shadowed by his father's abandonment and his mother's suicide, to boyhood in Saigon with his loving but struggling grandmother. It is his grandmother who makes the agonizing decision to put him up for adoption, a decision that poises Long, age 9, for a dramatic rescue in Operation Babylift, the US-coordinated effort that evacuated over 2,000 children from Saigon in the space of three days in 1975. Lavishly illustrated with archival photographs, the narrative is interspersed with just the right amount of war history, never losing the focus on Long and his experiences and ratcheting up the emotional intensity as he lifts off from Vietnam and lands in Chicago. A prefatory note explains that conversations have been "reconstructed . . . from the memories of [eye]witnesses," with the caveat that those memories may not always be completely accurate. Appendices include multimedia resources for further research and a bibliographic essay on sources. (Nonfiction. 10+)
From the Publisher
"Always true to a child's viewpoint, Warren's clear narrative, with many documentary photos, begins as a boy struggles to survive in Vietnam...The child-at-war story and the facts about the Operation Babylift rescue are tense and exciting...fascinating." — Starred, Booklist

"Lavishly illustrated with archival photographs, the narrative is interspersed with just the right amount of war history, never losing the focus on Long and his experiences and ratcheting up the emotional intensity as he lifts off from Vietnam and lands in Chicago." —Kirkus Reviews

"Warren deftly weaves into Long's story information about the Vietnam conflict, life in Saigon, the plight of children during war, and the political machinations involved in airlifting thousands of youngsters to safety during the American evacuation." — The Horn Book

"This is a personal story, one so well written that it will be sure to hold readers' attention. An outstanding choice." — School Library Journal

"Compelling." — Publishers Weekly

"Well written and filled with many poignant and heart-wrenching photos from the era, this biography will evoke both discussion and contemplation among young teens." — VOYA

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374400231
  • Publisher: Square Fish
  • Publication date: 9/2/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 128
  • Sales rank: 119,686
  • Age range: 10 - 15 Years
  • Product dimensions: 7.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrea Warren 's own daughter is one of the 2,300 orphans rescued by Operation Babylift. She is the author of Surviving Hitler, a Robert F. Sibert Honor Book, and Orphan Train Rider, which received the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Nonfiction. She lives in Prairie Village, Kansas.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2006

    Children's Lit 1152

    In the biography ¿Escape from Saigon How a Vietnam War Orphan Became an American Boy¿ written by Andrea Warren, published by Melanie Kroupa Books in 2004 a young Vietnamese boy named Long is left without anyone to properly care for him after his family is ravaged by the continuing battle between North and South Vietnam. Long¿s American father leaves him around the age of two to be cared for by his mother who becomes increasingly depressed and eventually commits suicide. His maternal grandmother decides to take him to the city of Saigon where she hopes he will receive less backlash for his multicultural background. It becomes increasingly difficult for his elderly grandmother to support the two of them and so she decides to sign Long into an orphanage, the Holt Center, in hopes that he will be placed into an adoptive family that can properly care for him. At the Holt Center Long is given food and shelter along with education and friendship. During the Vietnam War many families were displaced and children left to fend for themselves. This is a touching true story about the struggle of a remarkable boy and the staff members that helped him and others as the North Vietnamese surrounded them they worked to have the children airlifted out of the city and into the safety of home in places like America and Australia. This book is recommended for grade levels from about fifth grade to eighth. It is written at a level that is easy to follow and pleasant. It steers around the disturbing details of the horrors suffered at the time. This is appropriate due to the fact that the memories of Saigon that Long shares are told from a child¿s perspective of the time. In writing from this point of view the story line becomes more accessible to middle school aged children. It deals openly with concepts like prejudice. Young teens will be able to relate to wanting to blend or fit in.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2004

    The Little Boy Who Could

    This is Ms Warren's best book to date. As an adult reader previewing reading material for my young nieces and nephews, I feel this story is both compelling and exciting. I particularly like the way history and the culture of the area is woven into the main theme. For children who think they have a tough life, this is a must read. For those of us who have family or friends who fought in Vietnam, this gives a different perspective on the conflict. Today this book can clearly be related to the manner in which children all over the world must cope when their worlds are destroyed by war.

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