When the country is divided between the Communists and the corrupt regime of the South Vietnamese government, the United States becomes involved, with the war escalating and causing collateral damage to the countryside and its inhabitants. When South Vietnam finally capitulates, the family is directly affected by the Communist victors, losing their home and possessions. Indeed, Cungdiem’s mother is forced into an arranged marriage with a South Vietnamese soldier.
Part of the family successfully escapes by boat, and Cungdiem’s parents attempt an escape on foot through Cambodia. After their capture and release from a remote prison, they attempt an escape by sea, where they suffer storms and pirates. They spend time in refugee camps in Malaysia and the Philippines, until finally they reach the United States—where the struggles continue with turncoat sponsors and school bullies.
Follow this family history as they struggle and eventually succeed, becoming educated and successful and accepting their new country with patriotic fervor.
The Philadelphia Inquirer hailed Andrew Pham’s debut, Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam, for evoking “the full sadness of the human condition . . . marveling at spiritual resilience amid irreconcilable facts.” The New York Times Book Review called it, simply, “remarkable.” Now, in The Eaves of Heaven, Pham gives voice to his father’s unique experience in an unforgettable story of war and remembrance.
Once wealthy landowners, Thong Van Pham’s family was shattered by the tumultuous events of the twentieth century: the festering French occupation of Indochina, the Japanese invasion during World War II, and the Vietnam War.
Told in dazzling chapters that alternate between events in the past and those closer to the present, The Eaves of Heaven brilliantly re-creates the trials of everyday life in Vietnam as endured by one man, from the fall of Hanoi and the collapse of French colonialism to the frenzied evacuation of Saigon. Pham offers a rare portal into a lost world as he chronicles Thong Van Pham’s heartbreaks, triumphs, and bizarre reversals of fortune, whether as a South Vietnamese soldier pinned down by enemy fire, a prisoner of the North Vietnamese under brutal interrogation, or a refugee desperately trying to escape Vietnam after the last American helicopter has abandoned Saigon. This is the story of a man caught in the maelstrom of twentieth-century politics, a gripping memoir told with the urgency of a wartime dispatch by a writer of surpassing talent.
From the Hardcover edition.
My biggest dilemma was that I wanted to write a book about Vietnam, but the things that I knew and could write about had already been done. At best, I could duplicate these subjects and potentially create a new angle, but it would be more or less the same story. I really didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon just for the sake of completing a book about Vietnam.
The epiphany for writing Saigon Stories came from a Vietnamese friend who shared a personal story with me. When he was 18 years old, he had just completed the national university entrance exams and was waiting for his results. It was 1980. The war in Cambodia against the Khmer Rouge was heating up and young Vietnamese men were being drafted en masse to fight a guerilla war in the jungles of Cambodia. Many were not coming home and many others came home with horrific injuries. My friend was scared that he would be next. He felt he had done well on the exams and thought he had passed and thus would be accepted into a university, but he also knew that he could be drafted into the army at a moment’s notice. If he passed the exam, he would get into a university and be excused from military service. The problem was that if the draft notice showed up first it wouldn’t matter how he did on the exam. It was all about which notice arrived first – the results of his exam or his draft notice. It was an amazing story and he shared it with me because he knew me, I knew the subject, I could speak his language, and he trusted me. This same thing happened in many other contexts with many other people during my years in Vietnam.
Saigon Stories is a collection of these kinds of personal experiences. These stories do what most histories and many modern descriptions of Vietnam have not done very well. They bring real human voices and real stories and experiences to what has happened and what is happening in Vietnam.
To do this well, I had to find the right people to tell their story.
I selected five Vietnamese families that fell into one of five family backgrounds. One family [The Returnees] is from the South, but they left the country for the USA in April 1975 only to return nearly 20 years later to re-start their lives in Vietnam. Another family [The Southern Patriots] is from the South, but they moved to the North in 1954 to carry out the country’s nationalist agenda and then returned to the South after Liberation on April 30, 1975. A third family [The Southern Officer] was fully committed to the Government of South Vietnam’s war against North Vietnam and after the war they had to pay a price for this commitment. A fourth family [The Southern Politician] was neither pro-North, pro-South, pro-American, or pro-Viet Cong. Instead they were part of the ‘Third Force’ that protested against the South Vietnamese government, wanted the Americans to leave, did not know who the Viet Cong were, and sought an independent peace. The fifth family [The Northern Migrants] endured three decades of war in the North and then moved to the South in late 1975 to seek prosperity.
These stories will provide the reader with a new means to explain and hopefully understand past and contemporary Vietnam. For those Americans who served in Vietnam with the military or forcefully protested the war from the United States, I hope these Vietnamese family stories will give you a sense of what happened in the country that so impacted so many lives in America. This is a chance to hear from the Vietnamese who had their lives equally or even more heavily impacted than anyone in America. This is what Saigon Stories is all about.
Thanks for checking this book out.
For a decade before the fall of Saigon, Edward P. Metzner served as an advisor among the people of the beautiful and hotly contested Mekong Delta. After the war, he diligently sought news of the close friends and comrades in arms he had made among the Vietnamese military officers. Many had died; others could not be found. When Metzner eventually located a few, he believed their stories should be told. Three agreed to do so, and their accounts form the core of Reeducation in Postwar Vietnam: Personal Postscripts to Peace.
Two of the men, Huynh Van Chinh and Tran Van Phuc, who had been colonels of the Army of Vietnam, lived through the deprivation, torture, and mental abuse of the reeducation camps and eventually found freedom in America. The experiences of these two men reveal not only the closely guarded secrets of the experiences of high-ranking officers in post-war Vietnam but also the changes in the camps over time. In the book's other first-person account, Col. Le Nguyen Binh tells a different story: his dangerous escape from Vietnam, with some of his junior officers and enlisted men, in three overloaded fishing boats with low stocks of drinking water and food and recalcitrant crews.
Metzner introduces the book and the individual stories with the details necessary to understand the larger picture of which they are a part. He also profiles Gen. Le Minh Dao, a division commander in the dangerous area northwest of Saigon who spent seventeen years in North Vietnamese jails, and Father Joe Devlin, a Catholic priest who aided innumerable people in Vietnam through the years of the war and in Malaysian refugee camps afterward.
The matter-of-fact, even stoic stories of these survivors stand as a testimony to their endurance and persistent desire to return to a life in freedom.
An Enormous Crime is nothing less than shocking. Based on thousands of pages of public and previously classified documents, it makes an utterly convincing case that when the American government withdrew its forces from Vietnam, it knowingly abandoned hundreds of POWs to their fate. The product of twenty-five years of research by former Congressman Bill Hendon and attorney Elizabeth A. Stewart, An Enormous Crime brilliantly exposes the reasons why these American soldiers and airmen were held back by the North Vietnamese at Operation Homecoming in 1973 and what these men have endured since.
Despite hundreds of postwar sightings and intelligence reports telling of Americans being held captive throughout Vietnam and Laos, Washington did nothing. And despite numerous secret military signals and codes sent from the desperate POWs themselves, the Pentagon did not act. Even in 1988, a U.S. spy satellite passing over Sam Neua Province, Laos, spotted the twelve-foot-tall letters "USA" and immediately beneath them a huge, highly classified Vietnam War-era USAF/USN Escape & Evasion code in a rice paddy in a narrow mountain valley. The letters "USA" appeared to have been dug out of the ground, while the code appeared to have been fashioned from rice straw (see jacket photograph).
Tragically, the brave men who constructed these codes have not yet come home. Nor have any of the other American POWs who the postwar intelligence shows have laid down similar codes, secret messages, and secret authenticators in rice paddies and fields and garden plots and along trails in both Laos and Vietnam.
An Enormous Crime is based on open-source documents and reports, and thousands of declassified intelligence reports and satellite imagery, as well as author interviews and personal experience. It is a singular work, telling a story unlike any other in our modern history: ugly, harrowing, and true.
From the Bay of Pigs, where John and Robert Kennedy struck a deal with Fidel Castro that led to freedom for the Bay of Pigs prisoners, to the Paris Peace Accords, in which the authors argue Kissinger and Nixon sold American soldiers down the river for political gain, to a continued reluctance to revisit the possibility of reclaiming any men who might still survive, we have a story untold for decades. And with An Enormous Crime we have for the first time a comprehensive history of America's leaders in their worst hour; of life-and-death decision making based on politics, not intelligence; and of men lost to their families and the country they serve, betrayed by their own leaders.
It's a little-told story of the tragic fallout from the Vietnam War, one that millions of Southeast Asians-and Americans-can relate to.
Most of the refugees found sponsors in United States and elsewhere, but after more than two decades they still have no place to really call home.