Most books about Vietnam focus on the French who colonized it or the Americans who sought to "save" it. This combination of memoir and family history shows the Vietnamese "as they saw themselves as the central players in their own history." The author's perspective is particularly enlightening because her relatives, though unquestionably better-educated and better-off than the typical Vietnamese, made a variety of political and social choices over the course of the turbulent century she chronicles. Her great-grandfather was a mandarin and member of the imperial court; her father was a government official under French rule; her older sister married a Communist. Elliott herself enrolled in Georgetown's School of Foreign Service in 1960, married an American, and supported the U.S. crusade in Vietnam until her experiences interviewing Vietcong prisoners of war for a Rand Corporation study convinced her that the corrupt Saigon regime failed to offer a convincing alternative to Communism. Because she had family on both sides, Elliott's portrait of the war is subtler and less didactic than previous accounts by proponents of either ideology. Her prose is a bit formal and dense for the casual reader, but by telling her relatives' personal stories and explicating their culture's traditional values, her reflective narrative makes humanly complicated a history too often oversimplified. --Wendy Smith
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From Publishers Weekly
In this deeply moving family saga, Elliott offers a microcosm of the history of modern Vietnam. Her great-grandfather passed the grueling tests through which unpropertied Vietnamese men tried to advance by entering the government as mandarins. More than half a century later, in 1947, when the author was six, her family fled their smoldering ancestral village while Ho Chi Minh's troops battled the French. After spending her childhood in Hanoi and her adolescence in Saigon, she studied at Georgetown University in the early 1960s. She and her future husband, David Elliott, moved to Saigon, marrying in 1964; there Elliott took a job with the Rand Corporation in a U.S. Defense Department-sponsored project, interviewing communist prisoners and defectors. Though her parents were staunchly anti-communist (her father served as governor in the puppet kingdom run by the French and later worked in South Vietnamese dictator Ngo Dinh Diem's regime), the author scorned Diem as well as the communists and, by 1969, called for an end to U.S. intervention. Family loyalties were divided: her eldest sister became a hard-core communist, while one of her brothers spent more than three years in Vietcong "reeducation" prison camps. Elliott writes with unsparing candor about forging a new identity, about her nation's destruction and its partial revival with the reintroduction of free-market mechanisms and, above all, about her family's harrowing passage through a long and difficult history. Author tour.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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