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Wandering Souls

Wandering Souls by Cecile Pin

As seen:

  • Women's Prize for Fiction 2023 Longlist

By Cecile Pin

avg rating

10 reviews


‘A mighty achievement’ OCEAN VUONG ‘Beautiful, brilliant’ R. F. KUANG ‘Dazzling’ OBSERVER ‘Will shatter your heart’ GLAMOUR ‘Powerful’ SUNDAY TIMES An extraordinary story of the journey of one young family through love, loss and unwavering hope. There are the goodbyes and then the fishing out of the bodies – everything in between is speculation. One night, not long after the last American troops leave Vietnam, siblings Anh, Thanh and Minh flee their village and embark on a perilous journey in hope of a new life. Separated from their parents and fearing the worst they find themselves travelling alone in the world without a home to return to. After a twist of fate lands them in Thatcher’s Britain, they must somehow build new lives there. Will the love they have for each other be enough to keep them together? Wandering Souls is a stunning, life-affirming testament to the healing power of stories. A Time and Guardian book of the year Shortlisted for the Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize 2023 ‘Poignant and lyrical’ DAVID NICHOLLS ‘A powerful story of courage, love and unwavering hope’ MARIE CLAIRE ‘Beautiful… I loved every word’ PHILIPPA PERRY ‘A deeply affecting reckoning with history’ i-D ‘Tells one of the most important stories of our times’ LUCY CALDWELL ‘Special … Reading it is like watching a writer at work’ NEW YORK TIMES


25 May 2023


An excellent novel, well written, warm and sensitive. The form of it, with the different strands and moments in time, makes for compelling reading as it tells the story of the so-called Vietnamese Boat People and so much more through one family's journey. Very moving, extremely readable and highly recommended.

18 Apr 2023


Patty: It was a very interesting read about the tribulations of Vietnamese refugees something I knew nothing about. I enjoyed the determination shown in the characters efforts to get to the USA ahich was their aim unfortunately they were sent to the UK but they achieved a good life eventually. My favourite character was Anh the valiant sister who looked after the family & kept them together throughout their many tribulations. This book made me feel sorry for the prejudice shown to them & the government’s hypocrisy. I would recommend to anyone interested in current affairs.

Patty, Burtonwood Library Reading Group

18 Apr 2023


I liked the relevance to today’s situation about migrant boat crossings. The details of family life in Vietnam and how Anh tried to maintain the values she thought her family believed in. The themes I enjoyed included loss, grief new beginnings struggles between siblings. My favourite character was Anh. She had to become a parent to her brothers. The book showed the conflicts and her own struggles between being an adult & needing support herself. This made me feel sad but in equal measure uplifted the resilience of people. I would recommend to anyone interested in current affairs and different cultures.

Leanne, Burtonwood Library Reading Group

This was a human story and the story of so many. I liked the historical accuracy. My favourite character was Thanh who despite all the odds studied hard and was a good boy for his sister. This book made me uncomfortable and a little ashamed at times because we let this happen to people and also very sad for what they went through. I would recommend to anyone from mid-teens onwards who want to know about the history of the Vietnamese boat people.

Julie, Burtonwood Library Reading Group

18 Apr 2023


I liked the way the book was rooted in real history about the trials and perils of refugees. It made me more aware of “the other” in British political history. I would recommend this book to people of a liberal persuasion and those interested in contemporary British history.

Marion, Burtonwood Library Reading Group

I liked the atmosphere-the fear and expectation of moving to new country and new beginnings. It did jump quickly to 40 years later some more infill would have been welcome but it was beautifully written. The themes I enjoyed were the references to Vietnam, the family thread and the deceased brother hovering in the background. My favourite character was Anh although I would have liked more emotion & empathy with her. It felt quite factual. I made me feel very lucky not to have to consider refugee status. Quite sad about the 3 surviving siblings and felt bereft at their initial experiences. I would recommend this book to anyone with a social conscience that might like the historical angle of the book.

Janette, Burtonwood Library Reading Group

18 Apr 2023


Upon completion I wasn’t at all sure as to what the author intended this book to be. Was it a novel? Was it a historical summation? Was it a documentary/commentary on the results/outcomes of the Vietnamese war? Or was it something else altogether?

It was an easy quick read but I didn’t feel that the story really got going until the three children arrived at Stoping in Hampshire but even then I felt the plot was very thin as they grew up there and then were moved to London. I am not sure that it truly reflected the struggle of Vietnamese refugees. I knew little of their life in London and I am not sure after reading their accounts that I was any more knowledgeable about what they faced there.

The characterization of the three main people in this story was thin and without any special elements. If I hadn’t been given this book to read by my library book group leader, I wouldn’t have picked it off the shelf in the library or a bookshop. It was a pleasant enough read but lacked for any real depth or surprises that I normally look for in a book of this kind.

I trust you are not too disappointed with my review of this novel and May I thank you for giving us free access to it.

18 Apr 2023


I found the book a compelling read, although initially I was slightly confused by some of the brief interjections of factual content, e.g Thatcher's letter to a Vietnanmese family and a report of atrocities carried out on Koh Kra island.

This made sense when I finished the book and understood the perspective of the story.
It is the incredibly moving story of a family escaping from Vietnam. The three elder children being sent first, the parents and remaining four children leave later and sadly all drown.
Nah, the eldest, has to look after and make a new life for herself and her brothers.
The Wandering Soul of her dead younger brother watches over them.

It is only many years later that the family are able to give their parents and siblings a proper funeral and lay them to rest, honouring them by keeping their ashes at their homes in London.

Cecile Pin shows us how such trauma can effect later generations as Anh''s youngest daughter plans to write about their history.

An excellent read.

Syston Elevenses Book Group

14 Apr 2023

Macclesfield Library Reading Group

Thank you to @ReadingAgency and @4thestatebooks for providing free copies for Macclesfield Library Reading Group to review. Here are the thoughts of some of our members -

“Prescient given current events”
“I thought the story was really heartbreaking – such a shame, and yet not surprising, that the family encountered racism and poverty after their terrible journey.”
“Absolutely devastating what war does to people. The nature of the ‘Wandering Souls’ campaign waged by the American troops was dreadful and not something I knew about prior to reading the book”
“Heartbreaking but ultimately heartwarming”
“I enjoyed the reveal at the end and I particularly liked the interweaving of the non-fiction elements. I could feel that this was Cecile Pin’s first book but I think she’ll be one to watch in the future.”
“We’ve read another book about the Vietnam war for Reading Group so really my only knowledge of the period is from that book. I liked getting a different perspective on this time in history and I also liked that the book’s themes are still actually remarkably current”
“I thought this was an important story which needed to be told”
“I enjoyed the writing style of the book and its language but I felt that it wasn’t consistent – some passages were really beautiful and others, like the description of the lorry incident, felt clunky and too obvious”

10 Apr 2023


The story of 3 siblings who settle on the UK after fleeing Vietnam in the late 70s, this story is sadly still all too relevant today.
Cécile Pin’s debut novel is a moving, thought provoking and inspiring read that also educated. As a child, I remember the ‘Vietnamese boat people’ coming to Britain but didn’t know the backstory. Pin’s descriptions of their journey and the camps really evoke the awfulness of the risks they took and the terrible conditions they had to endure. The fact that people are still making these journeys now is almost unbelievable. It is so easy for migrants to be labelled as criminals by the media and this book reminds us of their humanity. Pin’s characters are well drawn and we can really feel for Anh as she is forced to take on the role of parent, although still a child herself, and the sacrifices she makes which aren’t always appreciated by her brothers. Overall a beautiful story of resilience, hope and love, well written. Thank you to the Reading Agency for providing proof copies for our group to review.

03 Apr 2023


A poignant and powerful tale of the experiences of the Vietnamese Boat refugees, this book focuses on three children, Anh, Minh and Thanh, who must make their own way as refugees in London in the era of Thatcher's Britain. The book not only provides a first hand account of the refugees and what they endured, and went on to achieve, but it looks at the situation from the view of those that didn't make it; "the Wandering Souls", as well as the soldiers fighting in the War they were fleeing; it provides an insight into the way Thatcher's Government viewed the refugee situation, and it also touches on a number of atrocities faced by the refugees at the time, and then later more recently when further horrors were endured by refugees in 2019.

I was rooting for the children as they grew into adults, I wanted to know their story. Anh, the main character, the elder sibling that became a mother to her younger siblings spent her life hoping that the lives they made were worth the sacrifice that her parents and siblings had made. I think they achieved that.

A very moving and beautifully written book that will continue to resonate with me, and a book that we all should read in the current climate, to put ourselves in the shoes of those fleeing their country and seeking asylum. Sadly it is more relevant than ever in the current climate.

28 Mar 2023


A huge thanks to @4thestatebooks for the advanced proof copy and to @cecilepin for writing such an important and provoking book.

It’s a story about a family that leave Vietnam at the end of the Vietnam war hoping to start a new life in America. As vulnerable refugees/immigrants, things don’t go to plan and some of the family end up in Thatcher’s Britain, not exactly a welcoming place for immigrants.

This book is emotional from the beginning, the night before departure the family have their last supper, the routine of family life being used to ground and reassure the children was heartbreaking. It is unusual for a book to generate such an immediate emotional response from me but within pages I was completely emotionally invested in this family. Perhaps it is down to the obvious parallels to the doomed Channel crossings we so regularly hear about, this made me consider the reality and real human cost of that. By that I mean that we know there is human life lost but in a news report it is not brought to life. In this book I started to contemplate the back stories of all of the lives lost in this way, and that is what brilliant fiction is for me. Something that transcends the words on the page and makes you question and process the world around you.

It’s a book about refugees and immigrants in the 1970’s, it’s a book about refugees and immigrants now.

Thankfully despite the trauma and heartache it’s a book of hope!

Themes - intergenerational trauma, sexual abuse, the experience of refugees how siblings in these families have to switch to parental roles.

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