The Ugly Daughter by Julia Legiam

Legian and Burke take us back to a time that we would all much rather have not have happened in our history as a human race, and show us the after effects that so many people were left with. We begin in Vietnam, in the late seventies and are immediately harkened by the remnants of a war gone by.

The authors tell the story from the point of view of Legian, or as referred to in the book, Loan, as she looks back on her adolescent life, starting at age eight. The setting in which her story takes place is a startling reminder that wars don’t end when the treaties are signed, and that the land that these battles were fought upon remain ravaged for many years to come, leaving those who remain behind to live in lands that were unintended graveyards, haunted by events that they had no control over, and no escape from.

But Loan’s story does not focus on these wars of our past, but on the wars she faced as a child growing up in a place where the fighting, harshness, and brutality infiltrated the very souls of those living in the time in between battles.  At the start of the story, Loan and her sister are living with their beloved grandmother, but because of a severe and brutal act of barbarism they were forced to leave and live with a new family.  Loan and her sister are placed in a new home, with a handful of strangers in an environment that they would soon become all too familiar and comfortable with. Although calling their new residence a home is quite a generous description. Their new living quarters was basically a lean to, a hut with sheet for walls and mud for floors. When they arrived they did not arrive to a celebration, but to a knock down drag out argument between the parents. They beat each other verbally and physically with fervor and it seems with even some pleasure on the abuser’s part.

 
From here the story takes us through the many different homes and families that Loan was shuffled to. Sometimes she was with family members and other times she was with onlookers who took pity on her and took her in, but there were only few things that remained constant: that wherever she went, abuse was always sure to greet her at her new destination, and that when those fleeting happy times did arrive, they were always going to be short lived.

Even though Loan saw and told of things that most of us in our lifetimes will never even encounter once, I feel that the purpose of her book was not for the reader to feel sorry for her. It was also not for the reader to only feel shock at the horror of her circumstances, even though that was a large side effect to these retellings. As a reader I truly felt that in Legian sharing her story, it was to highlight the importance of faith. In every circumstance that she found herself in, she always relied on the necessity of her faith. Many of the scenarios she found herself in would have been too large for even the most cared for and self-affirmed adult could have handled, much less a, eight year old child with only abuse as her constant. She never felt weakness in turning to a greater force than herself in her times of need, and she always credits that faith for her eventual salvation from each hardship. Loan’s life is certainly one of the law two steps forward, one step back, but in her case it was two steps forward two miles back. Her resilience is something to be respected and replicated in ourselves, and the way to do that from Loan herself, is to trust in your faith.

Because of the extraordinary circumstances of Loan’s life, this book read more like a novel than it did a memoir, which I personally very much enjoyed. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. It is a quick read that is full of twists and turns, even if those twists and turns are heartbreakingly tragic. It is a story of harrowing persistence, and the best part of it all is that the character, in which these awful situations molded and shaped, actually exists in this world, and has the opportunity to make it a better place. This book, I feel is only the beginning of those efforts, and I count myself lucky to have been someone touched by this story, and will live with her courage in mind when I find myself up against struggles that I think are too much for me to take. This is only the first part of her story, and I am on the edge of my seat for the next installment and will be one of the first in line to be able to read what comes next.

I also would like to add that the descriptions of abuse in this book are at times extremely vivid, and for someone who has been abused, these scenes would very easily be a trigger of response for them.  I would recommend a disclaimer including this statement or one like it with the book to alert readers of the vivid nature of the violence this book contains. 

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