A picture says a thousand words unless it’s this picture. Then it says so much. To Kim Phuc Phan Thi, the iconic “Napalm Girl” photograph screams “PAIN.”
Taken shortly after a napalm bomb destroyed her home and village, Kim Phuc went running down the highway towards photographers and reporters covering the Vietnam War. What they couldn’t see was the napalm burning the little girl, leaving massive scars on her back and left arm. Those scars would remain for decades, inflicting intense pain, and reaching deep down to where napalm could not reach, her soul. The events on that fiery road would affect Kim Phuc in ways she would never have imagined as a little girl.
But that isn’t the whole story.
While that photograph does depict the very real pain that Kim Phuc felt, it also shows something else. This is the beginning of the story, not the end.
Fire Road is the story of what happened prior to, and shortly after the events depicted in that iconic image. But there is so much more to the story of Kim Phuc than that. There is a lot more she has to tell the world.
The Napalm Girl didn’t stay in her little village after those attacks. Far from it, making trips to Russia and Cuba after she was done high school. Nor did she stay on Communist sole. She made a daring break as an immigrant in the 90’s. She risked her life, and the life of her husband, for freedom.
While the entrancing story how what happened to Kim Phuc will keep you reading, you will no doubt be equally interested in what happened to her soul. The napalm didn’t burn it but did leave a deep wound that could not be fixed by the gods of her ancestors or the mighty arm of Communism. And yet, Kim Phuc shares how the wounds that were inflicted on her were in fact healed. They went from being an embarrassment, an eye-sore, to becoming the symbol of how her life was restored.
Come along with Kim Phuc as she shares the harrowing story of her life. The good and the bad will leave you wanting to know who saved her from the napalm fire and turned her life around in ways that no one ever image.
“I had reached for God when I was nineteen and had reached for him every day since. I had done this because at one time or another I had reached for all other saviors, and none of them had saved me at all.”
This was not a fun book to read. This was also not a depressing tale.
Fire Road is a memoir, so it pulls the heartstrings back and forth. You feel the joy and comfort of Kim Phuc in her childhood home. You feel the anguish and pain when that home was destroyed, and napalm ravaged her body. You feel the fear of the bombs in her thoughts and anxious prayers. You feel the gratitude and joy come back when Kim’s life is divinely blessed, over and over again. You are astonished at each miracle, and each “happen-stance” that comes her way, and works out for her blessing, and the furthering of God’s kingdom.
There are times that names of people and places can be difficult to understand, but this is not a fault of Kim Phuc or her writing. Such is the nature of writing in English things that are not. Vietnamese names can be difficult to put into English, however, Kim Phuc finds a way to make it easy to identify characters and names without causing confusion or misleading the reader.
It is amazing to be able to track the life of Kim Phuc and be able to hear her thoughts and prayers as she went through them. Though Fire Road does cover a great deal of time, you feel as though you seeing a flower blossom right in front of you. Kim Phuc’s life is something special, and it is a pleasure to be able to share in it, even as a reader (and truly awesome to find out that she is a Canadian, like me).
While a review should recount the events of the book or Kim’s life, in this case, I can only say that this is a life far larger than a few hundred pages. And because this is a memoir, not a biography, you are left with the dissatisfaction of an unfinished story. Kim Phuc is still up and kicking, with more stories to live and share. And I’m sure there will be more miracles and blessed “happen-stances” that will fill more chapters, even more, books, after Fire Road.
If you ever wondered, what happened to the Vietnamese Girl? Here is your answer. Here is her answer, from that important fiery road, through two communist-ruled countries, defecting to a safe-haven nation, and living with horrible scars that reached down into her soul. Fire Road is a testament to the goodness of God in the midst of terrible circumstances.
“We had been impoverished. We had been despondent. We had been mistreated. We had been displaced. But now, here we were, safe, secure, bellies full. For such a long time, I could not see that God was working things together for good, but here the evidence was all but shouting: “The challenges you faced did not overtake you. You made it! You are still standing! And most important, you are at peace.””
Fire Road is a heartbreaking story. The things that Kim Phuc has endured in her lifetime are so of the most emotionally and physically destructive that you will hear tell of. But to say that this is just the retelling of one woman’s sad story would be to undermine and radically misunderstand what Kim Phuc is saying. While her story is marked with fire and sadness, Kim ends her memoir on a note of hope and thanksgiving. Life may hurt, but life can also be beautiful.
Kim Phuc’s story is a powerful and awesome reminder of God’s goodness, whether we see it or not, in the good times and bad, in Vietnam or Canada.
I give Kim Phuc’s memoir, Fire Road, a 4 out of 5-star rating.
I received this complimentary copy of Fire Road from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for an unbiased review.
This article first appeared on christianthoughtsandbox.wordpress.com