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Nanaimo author recounts refugees' lives in latest book

NANAIMO - Nanaimo author Arlene Blundell explores the story of a Vietnamese family in her book Four Hands.
Author Arlene Blundell is celebrating her book

Arlene Blundell and her husband Greg always wanted to have a big family.

In 1978 the couple had two children, Art, 11, and Nancy, 9, but the desire to have a larger family led them to sponsor a refugee family from Vietnam to live with them for a year.

They welcomed Ken and Wendy Chung and their two sons, who were five and seven years old when they immigrated to Canada, into their home in 1980.

During that time, Blundell learned about the hardships the family had endured in Vietnam and about their life in a refugee camp in Hong Kong, were they lived for a year before coming to Canada.

Blundell recently decided she wanted to write a memoir about the Chungs’ life and wrote and self-published Four Hands: A Vietnamese Boat Family Starts a New Life in Canada.

“I was just afraid that Ken and Wendy’s original story about emigrating out of Vietnam was going to be lost,” she said.

Originally she planned to write the book only for the family and friends, but she said with recent refugees arriving in Canada she thought the book was timely and would be of interest to a larger audience.

“I want [people] to lose their apprehension about immigrants from other countries, this fear of foreigners, this xenophobic attitude that still some people in Canada have,” she said. “They can contribute to our country and make our diverse country so much better.”

Blundell created the book through conducting several interviews with the Chung family.

In the book the Chungs recount the impact of the Vietnam War on their lives and the changes in their lives when the communist government came to power.

Ken Chung had Chinese heritage and after the war, the Vietnamese government began to place restrictions on Chinese-Vietnamese citizens. According to the book, people with Chinese heritage weren’t allowed to go to university and businesses weren’t allowed to hire anyone with Chinese heritage.

The family wanted their two sons to attend university and without the opportunity for Ken to acquire a job, their future was limited.

The book recounts the Chungs’ tale from when they were children until 1996.

“I just hope it’s an enjoyable read for them,” said Blundell about people reading her book.

Blundell previously wrote Just Emily, a memoir of her mother Emily Shaw, published by the former Strawberry Hill Press, and Frankly Speaking a memoir about her friend Marie Bye.

“I just find people so interesting and so different and their personal stories are so inspiring,” said Blundell about writing memoirs. “I think each one is a hero. There are so many people out there who are heroes that never get their stories told.”

Blundell is an avid volunteer and has worked with the B.C. Senior Games in 2007, B.C. Summer Games in 2014, the Nanaimo Toy Drive and others. In 2015 she was awarded the City of Nanaimo’s Honour in Culture Award.

Blundell is celebrating self-publishing her book by hosting a book signing and reading at the Nanaimo Harbourfront Library July 14 at 6:30 p.m.

Copies of her book will be available for purchase at the free event.