A Boy Called Nam: The True Story of How One Little Boy Came to Canada


95 pages
ISBN 0-7715-9799-1





Reviewed by Ellen Pilon

Ellen Pilon is a library assistant in the Patrick Power Library at Saint
Mary’s University in Halifax.


In 1979 the intolerable practices of the Viet Nam government caused a mass exodus. Many people left by boat, paying extravagant fares to unscrupulous captains for space on unseaworthy boats. These people were the boat people; Nam was one of them. Part of a large family living in Quang, ten-year-old Nam had the responsibilities of tending their twelve geese and one black cow and watching the other children while their parents worked. One day his father decided that the two oldest children, Nam and his sister Ling, should leave the country by boat. They boarded an old, decrepit fishing boat with 250 other refugees. The boat was attacked by pirates then by a monsoon, which demolished it. Nam was the only survivor. He was picked up by a small fishing junk which took him to Portuguese Macao. There the Jesuits took care of him until Leo Heaps arranged for Nam to come to Canada a year later. In Canada Nam lived with another Vietnamese family in Winnipeg, then with the Heaps’ daughter and her husband in Vancouver. The story concludes on a happy note: Nam receives a telephone call from his father who, along with the rest of the family, is now in China.

Nam’s life is so very different from ours that it is difficult to believe that the events are so recent and that they are true. The boat episode is reminiscent of Jim’s Patna in Lord Jim, yet Nam’s boat experience is indeed real. His story is an interesting one, well told by Leo Heaps and sure to engage the interest of young and old.


Heaps, Leo, “A Boy Called Nam: The True Story of How One Little Boy Came to Canada,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed March 1, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/37813.