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In a narrative set between the years of 1940 and 1976, Pham (Catfish and Mandala) recounts the story of his once wealthy father, Thong Van Pham, who lived through the French occupation of Indochina, the Japanese invasion during WWII, and the Vietnam War. Alternating between his father's distant past and more recent events, the narrative take readers on a haunting trip through time and space. This technique lends a soothing, dreamlike quality to a story of upheaval, war, famine and the brutality his father underwent following a childhood of privilege ("And that strange year, the last of the good years, all things were granted. Heaven laid the seal of prosperity upon our land. We were blessed with the most bountiful harvest in memory"). For those not familiar with Vietnamese history, Pham does an admirable job of recounting the complex cast of characters and the political machinations of the various groups vying for power over the years. In the end, he also gracefully delivers a heartfelt family history. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
*Starred Review* World-shaping events that most Americans know merely through schematic maps and historical summaries take on a poignantly human immediacy in this story of one storm-buffeted man: Thong Van Pham, the author's father. Readers join the young Thong in craving even a few grains of rice during the Great Famine, caused by the Japanese occupation of Vietnam during World War II. We watch as the adolescent Thong grieves the death of a classmate's father, brutally slaughtered by the French legionnaires who supplant the defeated Japanese. And we hear bullets whistling past the ears of the adult Thong when his South Vietnamese unit is besieged by Vietcong guerrillas. By juxtaposing episodes from different epochs in Thong's life, the intercalary structure of the narrative reminds readers of how the distant past casts long shadows on the future. When Thong finally surrenders to ruthless Communist captors, readers see up close the high personal cost of politicians' geopolitical calculations. Indeed, this gripping narrative confronts American readers with the tragic consequences of their own country's complicity in that calculus, dispelling illusions about both America's myopic strategies and the Vietcong's bloody tactics. By turns touching and searing, this slice of history like Pham's earlier Catfish and Mandala (1999) deserves a wide readership.--Christensen, Bryce Copyright 2008 Booklist
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Pham, author of the highly acclaimed memoir Catfish and Mandala, returns with a memoir of his father's life in Vietnam from the father's youth under French colonialism through his release from a Vietcong reeducation camp in 1976. Pham alternates between past events and those closer to the present, re-creating the ebb and flow of life's hopes and realities as the boy became a man. Born into wealth and privilege, Pham's father, Thong von Pham, would later lament as a draftee in the South Vietnamese Army that "hubris brought me down a difficult path when wisdom would have led me toward comfort and wealth." Counseled by his mother "don't be quick to kill or be killed for someone else's rhetoric," Thong witnessed wanton cruelty by competing perpetrators. As a child, he watched the horrific murder of a villager by a French Foreign Legionnaire from Algeria, which left him dreaming of joining the resistance against France. He would soon hear the lurid details of the execution of his beloved teacher, accused of being a French informant. Pham deftly paints a compelling portrait of life during three wars in Vietnam (World War II, the Indochina Wars, and the Vietnam War), of his father's inner conflict, and of the difficult choices faced by a people living in fear. This beautifully written book is essential for public and academic libraries.--Patti McCall, Albany Medical Research Inst., NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.