Voices of the Bay

Barrington Author Details Growing Up in Wartime Vietnam in Her New Memoir

Mai Donohue has lived an accomplished life for 45 years in Barrington


For 45 years Mai Donohue has led an accomplished life in Barrington where she and her husband Brian raised seven children, in addition to fostering four Vietnamese teenage refugees. A former teaching assistant, she worked with special education students at Barrington High School, acquired a reputation as an accomplished cook, prepared numerous meals for fundraisers and co-authored a Vietnamese cookbook. She did all this while spending 13 years attending school, often at night to earn her General Education Development (GED) certificate and a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Rhode Island.

If that was not enough, Mai has just published her first book, Crossing the Bamboo Bridge, Memoirs of a Bad Luck Girl, which tells of her harrowing childhood in Vietnam. She lived in poverty and experienced verbal and physical abuse at the hands of her mother and then from the brutal man she was forced to marry when she was 14, giving birth to their son at age 15. She eventually escaped to the streets of Saigon where a chance meeting with a foreigner would change her destiny. The book is available at Barrington Books, Amazon and Kindle. Her website is MaiGoodness.com and Mai can be contacted at Info@MaiGoodness.com

If I live here [in this country], I have to learn to read and write in English. No one forced me to live here. If I don’t like it, I can leave. Education is very important to me and I want to help my children get their education, so I need to learn. When my children watched Sesame Street and did their schoolwork, I learned along with them.

In 1993 I was taking English as a second language at CCRI. A young teacher, Margaret O’Connell made us write a journal. I fought with her for three weeks and cried every night to my husband who knows my background. I don’t want to tell my story, I don’t want to look at that part of my life. [It’s] so painful I couldn’t do it. She said, basically, “Do or die.” So I [wrote my] paper and she said the English was terrible but the story was very good. She doesn’t know she planted a seed in my head. She said, “Every one of you can write your story and someday you can write a book.” Write a book? I barely speak English. You are kidding me. I [went] to school in a big hut, this was the first time in my life I sat in a real classroom and she is telling me I can write a book.

With this book, a chapter of my life closed. Fear held me back for so long. Fear that people would find out my background – that I have no education – and people [would] look down on me. After Brian got Parkinson’s disease and I had a mini-stroke last year, I realized time is against me. I have to be public with my story. I researched how to get my publisher. When the book came in I was so happy. Eight big boxes of books arrived here in the living room. It was real. It was no longer a fantasy. The book will be public [and] I am an author. I crashed. I was so scared I was crippled for a day or two. I say to myself, “Keep your eyes on the prize, this book is your baby. Not only mine but everyone involved with it. You have to let people think whatever they want.” Who knew the tiny little Vietnamese girl from the countryside of Vietnam who didn’t even have any education growing up could sit in Barrington, Rhode Island and write a book? Anything is possible