Author captures struggles of refugees who find new life in America

Elaine Russell portrays loss, dislocation and survival of a Hmong family in “Across the Mekong River”
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(PR NewsChannel) / July 17, 2012 / SACRAMENTO, Calif. 

"Across the Mekong River"

"Across the Mekong River" by Elaine Russell

In her new novel, “Across the Mekong River,” (ISBN 1466338105) author Elaine Russell traces the dangerous journey of a Hmong family who escapes war and persecution in Laos to start a new life in America. Thousands of Hmong and other Laotians fled their homeland after the Communist takeover in 1975. Russell first became inspired to write the story after meeting Hmong children in her son’s school in Sacramento and reading Anne Fadiman’s “The Spirit Catches You” and “You Fall Down.”

“As I started formulating ideas for a story, I met a Hmong woman at my husband’s office. She told me her story of survival and her family’s struggle with life in the U.S. She introduced me to her friends who shared their experiences as well.”

The story is told through the alternating voices of 17-year-old Nou Lee, her father Pao and her mother Yer. Following the war, Pao is sent to a reeducation labor camp for having fought in the American CIA-funded Special Forces. After escaping from the camp in 1978, he and his family make a perilous flight across the Mekong River to a refugee camp in Thailand. The Lee family, unable to return home, remains in limbo for three years until finally receiving approval to resettle in America. They move to Minnesota and eight-year-old Nou must cope with the demands of her growing family while attempting to learn English and negotiate the dangerous environment around her.

Russell started down a fascinating path of discovery, learning about Hmong culture and traditions, and the Laos civil war. She visited Laos in 2006 to do further research and, soon after, joined the U.S. based non-profit Legacies of War, which advocates for the clearance of unexploded bombs from the war.

“Many of the struggles the family in my book faces – poverty, prejudice and conflicting cultural expectations – are timeless themes that run true for all new immigrants who come the U.S. filled with hope, only to face a harsh reality,” says Russell.

Praised by Kirkus Reviews as, “A multifaceted tale of complex characters finding new lives in their new world,” “Across the Mekong River” explores the resilience of the human spirit to overcome tragic circumstances and make impossible choices.

“Across the Mekong River” is available for sale online at and other channels.

About the Author: Elaine Russell graduated with a B.A. in history at University of California, Davis, and an M.A. in economics at California State University, Sacramento. She worked as a resource economist/environmental consultant for many years before turning to writing fiction full time.

Julia Drake
Phone:              323-304-2433



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SOURCE:  Elaine Russell

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