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His family’s dramatic escape from South Vietnam gave this Maine writer a complicated new life

Phuc Tran on great books, punk rock and trying to fit in.

PORTLAND, Maine — In a different reality, Phuc Tran would not be living in Maine. He would not have emigrated from Vietnam to the United States as a toddler in the arms of his parents, settled in a blue-collar town in Pennsylvania, endured bullying and bigotry, fallen in love with literature, become a teacher and tattoer, gotten married, had kids of his own, and written a book called “Sigh, Gone—A Misfit’s Memoir of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight to Fit In.”

In a different reality where random chance could have taken only the slightest of turns, none of those things would have happened.

Here’s the focal point in time for the fate of Phuc Tran. In April of 1975, as his family prepared to flee Saigon before it was overrun by North Vietnamese forces, they started to board a bus for the airport and a new life in America. Phuc, not quite two years old, began to shriek and cry inconsolably. Half of his relatives, having already gotten on the bus, stepped off to wait for his meltdown to end, knowing that another vehicle would come along shortly and the family could board it in peace once the tantrum had stopped.

“As we watched that bus pull away,” he writes, “it was struck by mortar fire and exploded, killing everyone on board. We lay on the ground, cowering…With the burning carcass of our bus still in view, we boarded the next bus, not knowing if it, too, would explode and kill us all.”

Missing that bus gave Tran the most precious of gifts—a life. Watch our interview to learn more about his triumphs and setbacks, his joys and disappointments, and what he ended up doing with the years that fate gave him.

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