Once wealthy landowners, Thong Van Phams 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 Phams 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.
My family came from the Red River Delta, an alluvial plain of raven earth and limitless water. It was an exceptionally fertile country, though not a youthful land with treasures to be plundered. What riches it had, it yielded solely to sweat and toil. It had known centuries of peasant hands.
Generations beyond recall, my ancestors had tilled this soil where fortunes were made and reversed by countless successions of insurgencies, raids, and wars. The rise of our clan began with my great-great-greatgrandfather Hao Pham, a noted officer in King Nguyen Anh's army. For his battlefield victories against rebellious warlords, he was awarded a vast tract of land after the king's unification of Viet Nam in 1802. As was customary in the feudal order for the richest man in the area, he won the privilege of lord proctorship over all the villages within a day's ride by horseback of his home. He assumed the post, raised a big family with three wives, ...
The author's approach can cause the reader a certain amount of confusion at first, as the narrative bounces back and forth between decades, making it difficult to follow. Additionally, the reader expects a book in biographical format, and at first he or she may interpret the "I" of the story as being Andrew X. Pham and the "father" as Thong. The author's notes make it clear in hindsight that Thong is the narrator, not the author, but this may not sink in for the reader for the first thirty pages or so .....
Andrew Pham's writing throughout The Eaves of Heaven is crisp and straight-forward. His descriptions are detailed, yet minimal, providing an excellent sense of time and place without embellishment. The story never bogs down or becomes dull. Readers may, in fact, find themselves wishing for more after turning the final page. This book's fast pace and involving story is likely to appeal to a wide range of readers well beyond the genre boundaries of history and biography aficionados. (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).
Full Review (1115 words).
A Short History of Vietnam
Vietnam's history has been one of repeated invasions and resistance (map of Vietnam today). For most of the first millennium AD, Vietnam was controlled by the Chinese. A final rebellion in 938 led to Vietnam achieving independence until the mid 19th century when increasing parts of the country were defeated by the French. The entire area of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were declared "French Indochina" in 1887.
The turn of the 20th century brought calls for independence from the citizens of Vietnam. In 1919, during the Versailles Peace Conference at the end of WWI, Ho Chi Minh submitted Vietnamese demands to...
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