The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family

The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family

The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family

The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family

Synopsis

Duong Van Mai Elliott's The Sacred Willow, an extraordinary narrative woven from the lives of four generations of her family, illuminates fascinating--and until now unexplored--strands of Vietnamese history. Beginning with her great-grandfather, who rose from rural poverty to become an influential mandarin, 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 blossoms torn by fire from the trees flutter "like hundreds of butterflies" overhead. She reveals 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 with her infant son in jungle camps, 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. At times haunting, at times heartbreaking--it is always mesmerizing--The Sacred Willow will forever change how we view the history of Vietnam and our own role in it.

Excerpt

Growing up in Hanoi, Haiphong, and Saigon, I loved listening to the stories told by my parents and other relatives about their parents and grandparents. I found these tales fascinating--some funny, some tragic-- but although I knew that they spoke of family continuity, values, and Vietnamese traditions, they did not, at first, coalesce in my mind into a narrative larger than the individual parts. It was when I was in my late teens that I began to see how these anecdotes merged into a whole--a tale that reflected, in miniature, the history of Vietnam in the modern era. Still later, I began to see the common threads that ran through the lives of my great-grandfather, grandfather, parents, and siblings: the struggle to adapt and survive in the face of upheavals that more than once turned their world upside down, and the attempt to make the right choices for their families, for themselves, and for their country, often in very confusing circumstances. Someday, I told myself, I would write that story. In this book, The Sacred Willow, I hope I have done it justice.

The work that follows is based on dozens of interviews that I conducted with my relatives over the years, on family records, on archive documents, on research done on-site in Vietnam, and on information from existing works in English, French, and Vietnamese. It traces the social, cultural, and political events that have shaped the men and . . .

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