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In her powerful second memoir, Owner of a Lonely Heart, Beth Nguyen writes of the isolation she felt while growing up as a Vietnamese refugee in a mostly white town in Michigan. In 1975, when she was just a baby, Nguyen’s family fled Saigon the day before the Vietnam War ended, but her mother chose to stay behind. “Or was left behind in Saigon,” Nguyen writes. “For many years, I wouldn’t know which phrasing was more true.” Nguyen was 10 when her mother immigrated to Boston, but, over the course of her adult life, the author has spent less than 24 hours with her. After giving birth to a second child of her own, she felt she needed to know the truth about what had happened all those years ago, and to understand the woman whose absence had defined her life. Nguyen uses her fleeting, often heartbreaking encounters with her mother to ruminate on memory, parenthood, and what it means to truly care for someone. Through considering the other maternal figures in her life—her grandmother and her stepmother, who she refers to as her “real mom”—she finds compassion for the woman who gave birth to her. —Shannon Carlin

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