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A Vietnamese survivor...,,
This review is from: When Heaven and Earth Changed Places (Paperback)
This book was originally written in English, and published as "When Heaven and Earth Changed Places." I was in France at the time, purchased the French edition, with the not quite literally translated title of "Entre le ciel et la terre," but with a much more evocative cover. This review is posted under both editions.
Her book is a very important one, if for no other reason than she tells of the Vietnam War(s) from the point of view of a Vietnamese female who has lived in both the Vietnamese and American culture, and experienced both the French war (and she still has nightmares of her first experience with one of their mercenaries from Morocco) and the American war. Underscoring her cultural straddle, one does not know whether to call her Ms. Le, or Mrs. Hayslip. Concerning her perspective, consider that during the trial of the American soldiers involved in the My Lai massacre, not a single Vietnamese was called to testify. It was as though they were only the background, unable to state what had happened to them, and thus the books on the Vietnamese experience in the war, and there are now several by women, are all the more valuable.
After she experienced the French war as a small girl, she would eventually become a dedicated cadre of the Viet Cong. Internal strife within the movement eventually forced her to the other side, and she tried to survive, associated with Americans. Part of the ultimate strength of the book is in the chapter, "To sell my body," in which she describes her life as a prostitute, the only viable way she could earn a livelihood. This is one of the most underreported (for some obvious reasons) aspects of the American involvement in Vietnam; the creation of an immense pool of "comfort women." Various articles have appeared in American news journals over the last decade concerning the compensation issue to Korean women who served in the same role to Japanese troops in the Second World War, but there has never been mention of compensation by Americans to these women. So, it is very much to Ms. Le's credit that she is willing to discuss this deeply personal, and in many ways humiliating matter. There are also large sections describing the horrors visited upon her, and other civilians, by both sides, the Viet Cong, as well as the ARVN. She eventually manages to escape this nightmare by marrying an American, many years her senior, and emigrating to the United States. Even there she is pursued by the on-going ramifications of that conflict, including the suicide of that husband. Her experience constitutes another "Book of Job," yet she is compelled to return to the country, during the first opening to the West, in 1986, to see her relatives. Oliver Stone made this book into a most moving movie, staring Tommy Lee Jones and Hiep Thi Le.
There is no question that all events in the book did occur during this terrible conflict, but I question if they actually occurred to her. I was not near Da Nang during the war (I was further south, in Binh Dinh province, and in the Central Highlands), but I note with much interest the review posted by James Chaffee who was there, and details numerous discrepancies in the book which have not been answered. Also, another reviewer, Sonia Haya shares the sentiment that this is not a totally accurate memoir, but tends more to be a historical novel. Certainly if this is true, it fits into a larger pattern of books that purport to be "true stories" that range from an embroidery of actual events to a complete fabrication (see books ranging from A Million Little Pieces to Love and Consequences: A Memoir of Hope and Survival). And, of course, there are others.
My "gut" feeling is that 50% of the events in the book actually happened to the author, and the other 50% are a composite of actual events that happened to others, and for this reason, despite the fact that she has written a good book, describing issues that are certainly underreported, I can only give the book a 4-star rating.
(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on January 04, 2010)