Children of the River is an excellent portrayal of immigration by the Cambodian refugees during the Vietnam War. Linda Crew provided an candid look at the Cambodian people, their ordeals, their likes, their dislikes, their talents, and their fallacies. This candor is rare when speaking or writing about a race or culture, but it reinforces that honesty can teach the most.
Irony was one of the most affecting features in this book. The irony of Soka wanting Sundara to marry Chinese because of their lighter skin, but not wanting her to marry a white boy, was utterly ironic, and provided insight into the way Soka, and other Cambodians were thinking, with this paradoxical goal of wanting to be as white as they could without actually being white. Soka also claimed that the Lam's could smell money, but at the same time, she kept other families away from the work, and was "smelling the money" just as much as they did. Irony's chief function in this book was to render how farcical and futile the racism and bigotry the Cambodians had, and to show that they were no better than the other races in the nation.
Linda Crew encapsulated much of the feeling and culture of the Cambodian people through the use of river symbolism. The river was the icon of life, hope, and really any other emotion to the Cambodians. As Sundara said to Jonathan, the Americanism of "The road of life" is incorrect to her culture. A road can end, but a river keeps flowing. This would also reflect the Buddhist beliefs of reincarnation, compared to the Christian beliefs of a single life. Every event in the book that had any significance had a reference to water or a river in it. When Sundara cried, she swam in tears that were drowning her. When Moni announced her divorce, she also said she would paddle her own boat now.
In Cambodian culture, grandparents lived with their eldest child during retirement. While living there, they were essentially regarded as the wise old...