In the tradition of Katherine Boo and Tracy Kidder, The Hungry Season is “a deeply reported story of aspiration and desperation” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review): a nonfiction drama that “reads like the best of fiction” (Mark Arax), tracing one woman’s journey from the mist-covered mountains of Laos to the sunbaked flatlands of Fresno, California as she struggles to overcome the wounds inflicted by war and family alike.
As combat rages across the highlands of Vietnam and Laos, a child is born. Ia Moua enters the world at the bottom of the social order, both because she is part of the Hmong minority and because she is a daughter, not a son. When, at thirteen, she is promised in marriage to a man three times her age, it appears that Ia’s future has been decided for her. But after brutal communist rule upends her life, this intrepid girl resolves to chart her own defiant path.
With ceaseless ambition and an indestructible spirit, Ia builds a new existence for herself and, before long, for her children, first in the refugee camps of Thailand and then in the industrial heartland of California’s San Joaquin Valley. At the root of her success is a simple act: growing Hmong rice, just as her ancestors did, and selling it to those who hunger for the Laos of their memories. While the booming business brings her newfound power, it also forces her to face her own past. In order to endure the present, Ia must confront all that she left behind, and somehow find a place in her heart for those who chose to leave her.
Meticulously reported over seven years and written with the intimacy of a novel, The Hungry Season is the story of one radiant woman’s quest for survival—and for the nourishment that matters most.
Writer and photographer Lisa M. Hamilton has documented agriculture and rural communities around the world. She was a National Fellow with New America, and has received additional fellowships, grants and awards from the UC Berkeley School of Journalism, California Historical Society, Creative Work Fund, James Beard Foundation and others. She is the author of Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness, and her feature articles have appeared in Harper's, McSweeney's, Virginia Quarterly Review, and California Sunday. She lives in Northern California.
Lauren Markham is a California based-writer covering issues of migration, justice and the environment. Her work has appeared in outlets such as the Atlantic, Harper's, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Magazine and VQR, where she is a contributing editor. The author of an award-winning book about child migrants entitled The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life, she has also spent over fifteen years working at the intersection of education and immigration. Her forthcoming book, A Map of Future Ruins: On Borders and Belonging will be out from Riverhead in February 2024.
Lisa M. Hamilton photo courtesy of Lizzy Meyers. Lauren Markham photo courtesy of Andria Lo.