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Eleven-year-old Bao Dang remembers watching in horror four years earlier as Communist soldiers dragged his parents from their home. Now an orphan, he begins a journey to escape the oppressive government of South Vietnam. The owner of a small boat, paid in gold, smuggles Bao and his cousin, Binh Pham, down the Saigon River at night to the South China Sea, where he and over one hundred other "boat people" pack into a trawler designed to hold fewer than thirty. For six days, they face danger from the police, weather, and pirates, not to mention the constant threat of capsizing as they take on water while living only on dry, rationed rice.Bao, Binh and the others hope a refugee camp in Indonesia accepts them, but there's no guarantee. Word has it they may be turned away and even towed back out to sea to starve. Eventually finding a safe haven, Bao harnesses the power of music to heal and help endure months of harsh and dangerous living while he and Binh await word from relatives in the United States, hoping they'll obtain the ultimate gift: freedom.