An Esquire Best Memoir of 2024

A mesmerizing and hauntingly beautiful memoir about a Hmong family’s epic journey to safety told from the perspective of the author’s incredible mother who survived, and helped her family escape, against all odds.

Born in 1961 in war-torn Laos, Tswb’s childhood was marked by the violence of America’s Secret War and the CIA recruitment of the Hmong and other ethnic minorities into the lost cause. By the time Tswb was a teenager, the US had completely vacated Laos, and the country erupted into genocidal attacks on the Hmong people, who were labeled as traitors. Fearing for their lives, Tswb and her family left everything they knew behind and fled their village for the jungle.

Perpetually on the run and on the brink of starvation, Tswb eventually crossed paths with the man who would become her future husband. Leaving her own mother behind, she joined his family at a refugee camp, a choice that would haunt her for the rest of her life. Eventually becoming a mother herself, Tswb raised her daughters in a state of constant fear and hunger until they were able to emigrate to the US, where the determined couple enrolled in high school even though they were both nearly thirty, and worked grueling jobs to provide for their children.

Now, her daughter, Kao Kalia Yang, reveals her mother’s astonishing saga with tenderness and unvarnished clarity, giving voice to the countless resilient refugees who are often overlooked as one of the essential foundations of this country. Evocative, stirring, and unforgettable, Where Rivers Part is destined to become a classic.

About the author(s)

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 coedited What God Is Honored Here? and is the author of a collective memoir about refugee lives called Somewhere in the Unknown World. Find out more at


"Yang keeps readers as close as possible to Tswb’s perspective, treating her history and hardships with care. Where Rivers Part is a sensitive, unforgettable account of one mother’s immeasurable strength and love for her family." Esquire

"Kao Kalia Yang's retelling of her mother's life is so many things: haunting, moving, riveting, powerful. It is a testament to the miraculous strength of women and the indomitable resolve of the human spirit. But above everything, Where Rivers Part—a story of unshakable love—is itself an extraordinary act of love in return." Cristina Henríquez, author of The Book of Unknown Americans

"Where Rivers Part confirms Kao Kalia Yang’s position as not only the most important figure in Hmong American literature but one of the most interesting memoirists at work today." —Anne Fadiman, author of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

"Kao Kalia Yang’s account of her mother’s survival against a backdrop of unspeakable violence is told in moving, lyrical language that I could not draw my eye away from. Where Rivers Part is a cherishing of a story and a community that has often been rendered silent, a love story in more ways than I can count, and an immense and important addition to the world’s literature." Vanessa Chan, author of The Storm We Made