The Hungry Season: A Journey of War, Love, and Survival (Hardcover)
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A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice | A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of the Year | Longlisted for the 2024 Plutarch Award
In the tradition of Katherine Boo and Tracy Kidder, The Hungry Season is a “lyrical” narrative with "real suspense" (New York Times): a nonfiction drama that “reads like the best of fiction” (Mark Arax), tracing one woman’s journey from the mist-covered mountains of Laos to the sunbaked flatlands of Fresno, California as she struggles to overcome the wounds inflicted by war and family alike.
As combat rages across the highlands of Vietnam and Laos, a child is born. Ia Moua enters the world at the bottom of the social order, both because she is part of the Hmong minority and because she is a daughter, not a son. When, at thirteen, she is promised in marriage to a man three times her age, it appears that Ia’s future has been decided for her. But after brutal communist rule upends her life, this intrepid girl resolves to chart her own defiant path.
With ceaseless ambition and an indestructible spirit, Ia builds a new existence for herself and, before long, for her children, first in the refugee camps of Thailand and then in the industrial heartland of California’s San Joaquin Valley. At the root of her success is a simple act: growing Hmong rice, just as her ancestors did, and selling it to those who hunger for the Laos of their memories. While the booming business brings her newfound power, it also forces her to face her own past. In order to endure the present, Ia must confront all that she left behind, and somehow find a place in her heart for those who chose to leave her.
Meticulously reported over seven years and written with the intimacy of a novel, The Hungry Season is the story of one radiant woman’s quest for survival—and for the nourishment that matters most.
About the Author
Writer and photographer Lisa M. Hamilton has documented agriculture and rural communities around the world. She was a National Fellow with New America, and has received additional fellowships, grants and awards from the UC Berkeley School of Journalism, California Historical Society, Creative Work Fund, James Beard Foundation and others. She is the author of Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness, and her feature articles have appeared in Harper's, McSweeney's, Virginia Quarterly Review, and California Sunday. She lives in Northern California.
“Lyrical … Ia’s story has real suspense to it… Hamilton is a master observer, as attentive to Ia’s world as Ia is to her seedlings.” —New York Times
"The Hungry Season is a deeply reported and intricately narrated story of displacement, homelessness, and identity. Hamilton crafts an intimate, searing portrait of one marginalized woman, devastated by politics and poverty, patriarchy and tradition, wars and colonialism, and the resilient way she finds solace and strength in one thing that brings her home: rice." —Suki Kim, New York Times bestselling author of Without You, There Is No Us and The Interpreter
“I can’t recall any telling of the refugee’s story with so much depth, texture, and heart. Lisa M. Hamilton is a devoted, inspiring listener and The Hungry Season shines with empathy. I loved this book.” —Ted Conover, National Book Critics Circle Award–winning author of Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing and Cheap Land Colorado
“The Hungry Season reads like a novel while offering an eyewitness account of Laos's history and a vivid portrayal of one remarkable life. Ia Moua’s incredible tale of survival puts our daily problems in perspective and reminds us of the resilience of the human spirit and the power of defining our own paths. A must-read." —Le Ly Hayslip, author of When Heaven and Earth Changed Places and Child of War, Woman of Peace
“The Hungry Season is a rare feat of reportage. Hamilton devotes herself so completely to learning the story of Ia Moua that there seems to be no barrier between writer and subject—the two voices have fused. The result is transcendent. It does not happen often, that the best of nonfiction reads like the best of fiction. This is that sublime book.” —Mark Arax, bestselling author of The Dreamt Land and The King of California
“Hamilton writes with precision and grace about displacement, family ties, and how the human connection to land—and what grows there—can serve as a lifeline. This is a tremendously reported story about a tremendous life.” —Lauren Markham, author of The Far Away Brothers
“A radiant work of compelling portraiture. . . . a brilliant narrative that blends an intimate story into the larger cultural, political, and agricultural history of Laos and the Hmong people. Comparisons to Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers (2012) are certainly apt, and book clubs will quickly embrace the stark humanity in this unforgettable title.” —Booklist (starred review)
"Sensitive and carefully written... A deeply reported story of aspiration and desperation." —Kirkus (starred review)
“An intimate, thoughtful portrait of a Hmong family's journey from Laos to Thailand and eventually to California…Extensively researched, nuanced, and compassionate, The Hungry Season is a detailed look at an immigrant experience often overlooked. Hamilton's gripping narrative will leave readers better educated about the recent history of Southeast Asia and awed by Ia's grit, humor, and dedication to the family that surrounds her and the family she left behind.”—Shelf Awareness