De l'autre côté du Mékong

La Francophonie: Exploring Connections between France & Laos 

Saturday, March 16; 2:00pm-4:00pm
In-person, at the AF Library, 2420 N Street, second floor
In French and English
Free with RSVP


We celebrate la Francophone this month of March with our special guest Elaine Russell who will explore the Laos-France connections with her book
De l'autre côté du Mékong  followed by the translator Susan Gibbs that will talk a  about the challenges of translating and keeping the same meaning and tone in certain phrases.

De l'autre côté du Mékong
by Elaine Russell  

(New French edition of Across the Mekong River, 2012)

The Lee family, from a Hmong hill tribe in the mountains of Laos, must flee their country in 1978 after the end of civil war (1959-1975) and the communist takeover—part of the wider Vietnam War. The continuing fight for Lao independence followed over fifty years of French colonial rule (1898-1955), resulting in the First Indochina War to overthrow the French. Many Hmong had fought for the French, preferring the colonial government’s laissez faire approach to their remote existence versus the communists, who might usurp their land and independence. Laos was caught up in the world-wide battle between democratic and communist countries, resulting in the Second Indochina War. French influence in Laos remained strong despite the upheaval and changes. Schools in Laos taught only in French until 1975. Today, over a third of the Lao population speaks French, and over 2,000 French live in Laos. 

De l'autre côté du Mékong follows the Lees from a squalid refugee camp in Thailand to a new life in Minnesota and, eventually, California. The story is told in three voices: the father Pao, who received a French education and longs to immigrate to France, but must accept the United States; the mother Yer, who finds her life in a strange foreign land overwhelming and wants only to return to her simple life in the hills of Laos; and the daughter Nou/Laura, who struggles to fit into her American life without alienating her family. The novel paints a vivid picture of the Hmong immigrant experience, exploring family love, sacrifice, and the resiliency of the human spirit to overcome tragic circumstances.

Elaine Russell is the award-winning author of three adult historical novels: Across the Mekong River (2012), De l'autre côté du Mékong (2023); In the Company of Like-Minded Women (2018) and her upcoming book When the Tamarind Tree Blooms (set in 1931 French colonial Laos). She has also written six children’s books, including a middle grade mystery series, a young adult novel, and two picture books on Thailand. A history major at university, she loves to travel and learn about the culture and past of other countries. This influence is the source of many of her works. Elaine lives in Sacramento with her husband and was a student at Alliance Française. 

Books in French and English will be available for purchase at the event.

You can also find Elaine’s books on Amazon

Across the Mekong River, 2019   English version on Amazon here

De l’Autre côté du Mékong, 2023   French version on Amazon here

Susan Gibbs has been teaching French, German, Italian, Latin and ESL to students/learners K-12 and adults for over 25 years. Susan graduated from the University of Metz, France with a Bachelor’s Degree in English and American Literature and Linguistics. She obtained a translator’s certificate in German, English and French from the Center of National Education in Vanves, France, and also holds 16 units in Early Childhood Education from Sierra College. Besides teaching world languages, Susan has also been in charge of several technical, medical and literary translations for various companies and private parties. Translating Across the Mekong River was Susan's first long term assignment.

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