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Book Club Kits: So Happiness to Meet You

Alamance County Public Libraries offer Book Club Kits for check out to area book clubs. Each kit contains 10 copies of a book and a reading guide.

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Book Summary

  • "After job losses, the author and her family start over in a most unlikely place: a 9-foot-wide back-alley house in one of Ho Chi Minh City's poorest districts, where neighbors unabashedly stare into windows, generously share their barbecued rat, keep cockroaches for luck, and ultimately help her find joy without Western trappings"-- Provided by publisher.

Discussion Questions

  1. Karin Esterhammer describes her life on the alley as the only foreigner. How do you think the neighbors’ attitudes toward her affect her experience in the country?


  1. In what ways does being a foreigner in a Communist country restrict or free her actions?


  1. How would you feel about being watched by the police, i.e., listening to phone calls, reading your email.


  1. What are some of the primary differences between Vietnamese and American family life?


  1. Swan acts and thinks more Western than anyone else in the book. How has that change her view of her country?


  1. How has Western culture influenced and changed life in Vietnam?


  1. What were the factors that caused tension in the neighborhood about her presence?


  1. How do these influences change the way Americans are viewed?


  1. Does Karin Esterhammer view Vietnam differently at the end of her journey?


  1. How have her expectations about success and money been changed or confirmed by living with the poor?



About the Author

I was born in a backwater town in Oregon—Portland—where it rained steadily throughout my entire childhood. Because I couldn’t go outside to play, I read everything within reach. The next time I looked up, 18 years of my life had passed, so I went to college in Boston and got a degree in journalism, figuring it would be a long, enduring career because—of course—people will ALWAYS read newspapers.

I worked at the Los Angeles Times as an editor, writer, and travel columnist for 15 years. In between, I published essays in the books Chocolate for a Woman’s Spirit and Chocolate for a Mother’s Heart. And—this is a little bit embarrassing—I won a Harlequin Books romance essay contest. 

I have also written for numerous publications, including Asia Life magazine;  Chicago Tribune; Baltimore Sun; Christian Science Monitor; Augusta Chronicle; Los Angeles Daily News; Orlando Sentinel; The Standard—China’s Business Newspaper; and earlier in my career, a bunch of tiny newspapers across the country that I’m pretty sure still owe me money.