The first time Anh travels back to Vietnam is in 1998. After saving up, he goes there on vacation with his mother and his siblings Khoa and Tram. His mother is delighted to be back. She always gives money to the many poor people they encounter in Vietnam. Although Anh had left the country when he was two and half years old, while walking around in Vietnam he realizes that he recognizes the smells and sounds of the country.
The family’s return to Vietnam in 1998 represents a return to their roots—to the place where their journey started. The familiarity of the smells and sounds of Vietnam to Anh is significant in that it suggests that Vietnam left an indelible mark on Anh, even though he was too young to remember anything concrete about the country.
Once her children have grown up and are secure, Anh’s mother stops working, and happily devotes herself to learning English and to looking after her grandchildren. Anh, always the entrepreneur, manages to get his mother involved in public speaking—getting her engagements that pay $2,000 a night.
The extremely well-paid gigs that Anh manages to get his mother allude to how far the family has come in their prosperity. Once barely able to earn enough to cover her children’s school expenses, now Anh’s mother is earning huge amounts of money, thanks to her son.
While Anh’s family has fared quite well, he realizes that not all members of the extended family have. One day, he sees Uncle Two on television. He is in a mental institution. When Anh calls his father to find out more, Tam informs him that indeed Uncle Two has been suffering from mental problems, and has been living in an institution for a year. Tam stands in for Uncle Two at his son’s wedding. On that day, Tam admits to Anh that he is still in love with Anh’s mother.
Uncle Two’s institutionalization reinforces the fact that fortune has not treated all members of the family equally. Some members of the family, such as Anh, have fared much better than others. Yet the family continues to function as strongly-bonded unit, reflected in the fact that Tam stands in for his brother at his nephew’s wedding. In admitting that he is still in love with Anh’s mother, Tam also exhibits some sense of regret over his poor treatment of his ex-wife.
When Tam falls quite ill again with the brain tumor, Anh finally convinces his siblings Khoa and Tram to meet him. Anh feels that the reconciliation is good for everyone: his siblings seem to heal as a result of their renewed contact with their father.
Khoa and Tram’s reconciliation marks another milestone for the family, as it is the point when all the siblings choose forgiveness and love over anger and rage—and in doing so, renew their bond with their ill father.
Six months later, Anh receives wonderful news: his father is healthy. The doctors have reassured him that his brain tumor is benign, and he will recover fully. He and his father are so happy at this news that they sob in the Melbourne airport, where Tam shares the good news. Tam credits his recovery to the reunion with his estranged children. Soon, Tam fathers another baby son with his new partner.
The happiness that Anh shares with his father upon discovering that he has recovered from the brain tumor reveals just how far they have come in renewing their relationship. The forgiveness that Anh and his siblings have shown Tam has allowed them to heal, and, as Tam himself contends, also allowed him to heal and recover from the tumor.
Anh finally confesses to his mother that he is in contact with his father. She tells him that she knows this already. She also knows that he has children with another woman. She is still full of rage at her ex-husband, but when Anh tells her that Tam thinks she is the most beautiful woman in the world, her demeanor changes. Still, she is terribly hurt by her husband’s abandonment.
In telling his mother about his renewed contact with his father, Anh must navigate her feelings—even though she already knows about Tam’s new life and family. Clearly, Anh’s mother still feels a lot of anger towards the husband who has betrayed her. But there is also sadness and hurt, which are not entirely alleviated by Anh’s reassurance that Tam thinks she is the most beautiful woman in the world.
Anh takes a trip to a Bobbin National Park with his children Xavier, Luc, and Leon, his wife Suzie, and his mother. It’s a beautiful day, with perfect weather. On the boat, his son Xavier helps Anh start the engine. As the boat pulls away, Anh reflects on the fact that his parents had undertaken a perilous journey decades earlier, to provide him and his siblings with a good life. As he enjoys the scenery and the company of his family, Anh gives deep thanks to them on this day.
The final boat ride with which Anh’s memoir ends marks how far he has come from that initial boat journey that saw him and his family flee Vietnam. Anh recognizes how lucky he is to have arrived at this prosperous point in his life, one which is full of success, happiness and the love of his family. The gratitude that he feels compelled to express to his parents suggests that he feels a deep debt to them for making it all possible.