Tales From A Mountain City, A Vietnam War Memoir, by Quyhn Dao

Quyhn Dao was a ‘boat person’ who arrived in Australia as a refugee in 1979. In her book, she does not describe the politics and military aspects of the war that was waged against the entire Vietnamese people by Ho Chi Minh’s regime from 1945 until long after the fall of Saigon in 1975. She shares instead her girlhood memories: her mother’s garden, her love of books, the antics of her brothers, the love story of how her parents met. But these are impossible to relate without also recording the impact of the conflict, even in her quiet mountain city of Dalat. The war permeated homelife, family connections, schooling, books, clothing, music, food – everything.

Qynh Dao lrg 2759

Confiscations, sackings, compulsory labour, imprisonment, torture, people forced to speak against their friends in order to survive, books burned, the value of money ruined, millions plunged into poverty by stupid policies – the pervasive horror mounts and mounts. Yet Dao principally focuses on the quiet small things of her ordinary life. She writes in a clear calm voice and only occassionally shoots out stinging lines.

Uncle Ho, the self sacrificing, self denying, self effacing living saint wrote a book to extol his own virtues. (Ch. 11, about the Chairman’s appalling ‘poetry’.) 

I had a strong reaction to this book. I frequently paused in anger and surprise and also a sense of shame that there was so much I had not known. I was a boy when Australia as was sending our soldiers to Vietnam. There was antipathy to the war and a pervading idea that it was the USA’s self made disaster and nothing to do with us. I shared that feeling and as my 18th birthday I hoped my name would not be drawn in the ballot for National Service in Vietnam.  After reading Quynh Dao’s memoir I now feel, 40 years too late, that most of what I thought I knew about Vietnam was badly misinformed.

The Foreword is by Malcolm Fraser, the Prime Minister of Australia who welcomed in refugees who had taken the enormous risk of fleeing the disaster.

Hundreds of thousand of Boat People never reached friendly shores. They died by drowning, of hunger, thirst or rape. Thousands of young women and girls were kidnapped by pirates, never to be seen again. (Ch. 13).

Malcolm Fraser reminds us that, ‘Australia is a much better country for having opened its door to refugees and asylum seekers from all around the world. So many have contributed so much, to a better Australia.’

I highly recommend reading Tales from a Mountain City by Quynh Dao. It was shortlisted for The Asher Literary Award and Wlliam Saroyan International Prize for Writers.

When the last defences crumbled, the regime crushed the spirit of the South Vietnamese in the name of ‘the glorious revolution. Confiscations, sackings, compulsory labour, imprisonment, torture, people forced to speak against their friends in order to survive, books burned, the value of money deliberately  ruined, millions plunged into poverty by – the horror mounts and mounts. Yet Dao focuses on the quiet small things of her ordinary life. She writes in a clear calm voice and only occassionally shoots out stinging lines.

Uncle Ho, the self sacrificing, self denying, self effacing living saint wrote a book to extol his own virtues. (Ch. 11, about the Chairman’s appalling ‘poetry’.) 

I had a strong reaction to this book. I frequently paused in anger and surprise and also a sense of shame that there was so much I had not known. I was a boy when Australia was  sending our soldiers to Vietnam. There was a pervading idea that it was the USA’s self made disaster and nothing to do with us. I shared that feeling, and as my 18th birthday I hoped my name would not be drawn in the ballot for National Service in Vietnam.  After reading Quynh Dao’s memoir I now feel, 40 years too late, that most of what I had thought about Vietnam was badly misinformed.

The Foreword is by Malcolm Fraser, the Prime Minister of Australia who welcomed in refugees who had taken the enormous risk of fleeing the disaster.

Hundreds of thousand of Boat People never reached friendly shores. They died by drowning, of hunger, thirst or rape. Thousands of young women and girls were kidnapped by pirates, never to be seen again. (Ch. 13).

Malcolm Fraser reminds us that, ‘Australia is a much better country for having opened its door to refugees and asylum seekers from all around the world. So many have contributed so much, to a better Australia.’

I highly recommend reading Tales from a Mountain City by Quynh Dao. It was shortlisted for The Asher Literary Award and Wlliam Saroyan International Prize for Writers.

It is published by Odyssey Books  and available through online retailers, including Book Depository and Amazon and Barnes & Noble

You can read more about the author here . She has also written The Beauty That Remains about her journey to freedom.

You are in the blog of Mark O’Dwyer. As well as being a bibliophile, I am guardian and photographer for Mawson Bear, one of this bright world’s very few Writer-Bears. Mawson wrote It’s A Bright world To Feel Lost In.

 

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