Brooklyn woman pens novel giving insights into Hmong culture in U.S.
Brooklyn resident Jill Van Den Eng, 42, has always thought of herself as a storyteller.
As a young journalist at the Kaukauna Times in the late 1990s, her “favorite stories were always about people,” she said. That experience, along with the support of her husband, led her to publish her first book in October.
After her husband’s job moved the family to Brooklyn in 2001, Van Den Eng’s husband pushed her to pursue her passion. He was always telling her, “I think there’s a book in you,” she recalled.
Her first novel, “Divided Moon,” which tells the story of a Hmong girl living in Wisconsin struggling to live in a culture within a culture, showcases her love of storytelling by using real life experiences.
Growing up in northeastern Wisconsin as a white female, Van Den Eng witnessed the struggles the Hmong people faced coming to the area. She heard many rumors about the culture, and as an adult, she said she wanted to know if the rumors were true. Van Den Eng’s inspiration for the novel came from a Hmong friend in middle school. She no longer keeps in touch with the friend, but her friend’s story is one that has stuck with her all her life, Van Den Eng said.
At age 15, her friend was already married and experiencing the struggles of living the life of an American teenager and following her culture.
“I remember thinking this happens other places, not here,” Van Den Eng said.
Like Van Den Eng’s friend, the book’s main character, Moon Vang, a 14-year-old high school freshman, faces an arranged marriage to an older man. The daughter of Hmong refugees, she is bound by the family traditions born in a land she never saw. Moon struggles to live the life she wants while straddling the culture of her heritage and that of an American high school student.
Though much of Van Den Eng’s inspiration was drawn from experience, she also did research before beginning the 200 page novel. She looked into Hmong culture, fiction and folklore.
Van Den Eng finished her first draft in 2006 and finally published the novel a couple of months ago with Solstice Publishing, a small publishing company out of Missouri. It took longer to actually learn to craft a story than to write the book, she said.
“A book is a journey, you want to take the reader there,” Van Den Eng said. Van Den Eng is currently working on the companion novel to “Divided Moon”, which is based on the story of Moon Vang’s brother.
When she is not writing, Van Den Eng enjoys spending time with her three sons, working as a book reviewer and reading. She also enjoys gardening and recently received her certification as a master gardener.
“Divided Moon” is available in e-book and paperback formats at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords and the publisher’s website, solsticepublishing.com.
Van Den Eng’s book will also be available for purchase for $10 at her book signing from 1-3 p.m. Feb. 24, at the Firefly Coffeehouse, 114 N. Main St.