The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family by Mai Elliott
A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Duong Van Mai Elliott's The Sacred Willow illuminates recent Vietnamese history by weaving together the stories of the lives of four generations of her family. Beginning with her great-grandfather, who rose from rural poverty to become an influential landowner, and continuing to the present, Mai Elliott traces her family's journey through an era of tumultuous change. She tells us of childhood hours in her grandmother's silk shop, and of hiding while French troops torched her village, watching while blossoms torn by fire from the trees flutter "like hundreds of butterflies" overhead. She makes clear the agonizing choices that split Vietnamese families: her eldest sister left her staunchly anti-communist home to join the Viet Minh, and spent months sleeping in jungle camps with her infant son, fearing air raids by day and tigers by night. And she follows several family members through the last, desperate hours of the fall of Saigon-including one nephew who tried to escape by grabbing the skid of a departing American helicopter. Based on family papers, dozens of interviews, and a wealth of other research, this is not only a memorable family saga but a record of how the Vietnamese themselves have experienced their times.
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This family's saga is as engrossing as fine literary fiction and is, besides, indispensable to understanding Vietnam from a Vietnamese perspective. * The New Yorker * [Elliott] reverently weaves the tale of a century of tremendous upheaval...and shows how the tragedies of her family are a window to understanding the Vietnamese century. It is a wonderful book, written with care, and it is extremely suggestive. * Touchstone * This is an excellent text which provides an insightful, personal history of a Vietnamese family. Through one family the reader discovers the real ramifications of a country at war for most of the 20th century. * Seth Bardo, Phillips Academy * This is a family saga sweeping you along 4 generations of recent Vietnamese history. This should at last allow the American student of the war to understand 'the other side' * both its steely willpower and tender hearts. * Those of us who reported from Vietnam during the war never fully understood the Vietnamese and the hardships they endured. Duong Van Mai Elliott's account of her family's experiences is a vivid, poignant, often inspiring story that I wish we could have read before we became involved in a conflict that was tragic for both Vietnamese and Americans. * Stanley Karnow, author of Vietnam: A History * [This] story could not be more compelling.... Voices a perspective until now missing from the English-language body of work on the Vietnam conflict.... Objectivity marks Elliott's book and makes it the best kind of history, [one] we may escape from repeating by reading of this remarkable family. * Beth Hughes, San Francisco Examiner * Suspenseful and gripping, Elliott's writing becomes a masterful narrative as she tells the various misadventures her family experienced trying to flee Vietnam.... It may be the story of the Duong clan, but it's also a story many Vietnamese will recognize as their own, and it will allow others an insight into a war they never have understood. * San Jose Mercury News * A gripping and enlightening account of the trials and triumphs of one remarkable family, whose story brings Vietnam's turbulent past to life as no other book I have ever read. Its great strength is that it is the story of Vietnam through the eyes of the Vietnamese, something that has been sorely needed in the West. I found it excellent and recommend it highly. * Don Oberdorfer, Journalist-in-Residence, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, author of TET * For too long Vietnamese voices have been conspicuous by their absence in the Western literature on the Vietnam War, a fact that has led to the common misperception that the conflict was an American tragedy only. This book fills that gap admirably. In a riveting and frequently moving account, author Mai Elliott chronicles the lives of four generations of a Vietnamese family whose members are caught up in the throes of war and revolution. Their story is told with both insight and compassion, while presenting a poignant portrait of the difficult moral dilemmas faced by individuals trapped in the web of a bitter civil war. Highly recommended. * William J. Duiker, Penn State University, author of The Communist Road to Power in Vietnam * An extraordinary collective biography that spans the history of Vietnam from colonial conquest to `market socialism.' Fascinating and moving * there is nothing like it anywhere. * There can be no better vehicle for understanding the modern history of Vietnam than the microcosm of the family. . .With deep insight and empathy, Elliott skillfully weaves the life stories of her great- grandparents, grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, sisters, brothers, and cousins into the intricate tapestry of modern Vietnamese history. This is a beautiful and utterly absorbing work, a book of extraordinary emotional power that is also a major contribution to historical understanding. It deserves the widest audience and belongs in all libraries. * Library Journal * This is a beautiful and utterly absorbing work, a book of extraordinary emotional power that is also a major contribution to historical understanding. It deserves the widest audience and belongs in all libraries. * Steven L. Levine, University of Montana, Missoula * It is rare to find a book on Vietnam that provides clear and reliable guidance to the general reader and at the same time opens up significant insights for the specialist scholar. Mai Elliot does both. Not only is there much in her account that is new and important and her perceptivity open and fresh, but her pen flows with a grace and eloquence that makes this salient era of Vietnam's history become vivid and alive to an extent normally possible only in a historical novel. But this is solid history at its very best * and fascinating to read." George McT. Kahin, Aaron L. Binenkorb Professor of International Studies Emeritus, Cornell University * In writing this splendid and engrossing history of her own family the author illuminates the extraordinary qualities in the Vietnamese people and how they have endured their own brutal history. There is no other book like this one: it is gripping and beautiful. * Gloria Emerson, author of Winners and Losers: Batles, Retreats, Gains, Losses, and Ruins from a Long War * Those familiar with the history of the Vietnam War will want to read The Sacred Willow for its portrayal of four generations of Vietnamese caught up in the conflict. But perhaps even more important, those who know nothing about the war will find the story irresistible. If you have room in your library for only a few books on Vietnam * this book should be there. * There can be no better vehicle for understanding the modern history of Vietnam than the microcosm of the family.... With deep insight and empathy, Elliott skillfully weaves the life stories of her great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, sisters, brothers, and cousins into the intricate tapestry of modern Vietnamese history. This is a beautiful and utterly absorbing work, a book of extraordinary emotional power that is also a major contribution to historical understanding. * Library Journal (starred review) * In this deeply moving family saga, Elliott offers a microcosm of the history of modern Vietnam.... 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, difficult history. * Publishers Weekly * Despite its heft, this sprawling memoir of a Vietnamese family is an immensly readable book. Author Duong Van Mai Elliott has compiled her remarkable story....It is Elliott's ability to share her family's flaws and admit her own shortcomings that makes this a work of such compelling human interest. * Barbara Lloyd McMichael,Seattle Times * This family's saga is as engrossing as fine literary fiction and is, besides, indispensable to understanding Vietnam from a Vietnamese perspective. * The New Yorker * Marvelously rich book.... The author * a middle daughter from whom not too much was expected * Plunges readers into a fascinating story told from a Vietnamese point of view, explaining the war in a context much larger that the limited perspective of American involvement...a very unique and broad perspective. * Steve Galpern, Denver Rocky Mountain News *
About Mai Elliott
Mai Elliott was born and raised in Vietnam and attended Georgetown University on a scholarship. She lived in Vietnam again from 1963 to 1968 and worked for the Rand Corporation interviewing Viet Cong prisoners of war. She returned to the U.S. in 1968 and now lives in California.
Table of Contents
Preface Acknowledgments Maps Family Tree 1: A Burial in the Night 2: Shut Gate and High Walls 3: The Silk Merchant 4: French Veneer, Confucian Soul 5: Taxes, Floods, and Robbers 6: The Third Month in the Year of the Famine 7: The Head on the Roof 8: Into the Resistance Zone 9: Poison and Bribes 10: The Fall of a Border Garrison 11: Sifting Through the Rubble 12: The New Mecca 13: Just Cause 14: Short Peace, Long War 15: Flying Into the Unknown 16: The Spoils of Victory 17: The Hours of Gold and Jade Epilogue: Across the Four Seas Bibliography Index
The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family by Mai Elliott
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Oxford University Press
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