Following the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, a mass of refugees fled Vietnam by boat. The fall of Saigon meant the domination of the Northern Communist regime, and Vietnamese who were resistant to the government escaped to countries including the US, Australia, and the UK. Hoa people, or the ethnic Chinese population in Vietnam, fled from racial discrimination and repression.
As boat refugees, Nam Le and his family arrived in Australia in 1979. The Le family initially landed on a Malaysian island after traveling on a boat from South Vietnam for eight days. In primary school, Le was the lone Asian child in class. "When you are a kid, you pick on anything that is different and being Asian was just one locus of difference," Le reflects on his experience. Like many other Vietnamese immigrants, Le’s parents had high academic expectations and regarded education as a way to social mobility in Australia. Accordingly, Le went through rigorous education and received scholarships to Melbourne Grammar and, later, the University of Melbourne.
In entering University, Le resisted his parents’ urgings to study Medicine and chose Arts/Law. Although his passion lay in the Arts, he considered Law as an important tool of empowerment. In 2003, Le was admitted to the Supreme Court of Victoria and started working as a lawyer. However, constantly feeling that he was not cut out for the career, he applied to and won the Truman Capote Fellowship to Iowa Writers' Workshop.
Le published his first story in 2006 and won numerous literary prizes in the following year. His short story collection The Boat published in 2008 won the Dylan Thomas Prize.
Le was only an infant when his family boarded the boat to Australia. Nonetheless, he remembers and revisions his homeland in The Boat. For him, “there is nothing like fiction to fully thrust you into someone else’s consciousness.”