While the Vietnam War is deeply ingrained in a generation of Americans, its history is often one-sided – flavored with blame, corrupt generals and politicians, drugs, and the Viet Cong. What is rarely heard is the compelling story of ordinary people who struggled amidst chaos and upheaval. “Autumn Cloud” is that story. Born at the beginning of World War II, Jackie Bong Wright stands at the center of the modern Indochinese drama. “Autumn Cloud” follows Ms. Wright as she moves from girlhood on a Cambodian rubber plantation to school in Paris, marries a leading political dissident who is later murdered, escapes to America in 1975 with her children, and makes a new life here with a new American husband.
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Le Thi Thu Van, whose first name translates as Autumn Cloud, was born in 1940 in Cambodia, where her affluent Vietnamese parents lived. She and her large family, like millions of other southern Vietnamese, were profoundly affected by the wars and civil unrest that buffeted Southeast Asia for most of the next four decades: the Japanese occupation during World War II; the First Indochina War from 1945 to 1954, which ended with the humiliating French defeat at Dien Bien Phu; and the American war, which began incrementally in the mid-’50s, peaked in the late-’60s and ended ingloriously with the Communist victory in 1975. Le Thi Thu Van’s family suffered in many ways during these momentous events. The family fortune was lost; one sister abandoned the family to devote her life to the Communist revolution; a brother was killed in the American war; another brother did not survive the Communist postwar “re-education” camps. The author married a reform-minded South Vietnamese politician; he was assassinated, probably by the Vietcong. She was left with three young children. Le Thi Thu Van tells three stories in this smoothly written autobiography: her own, her family’s and Vietnam’s. The most effective sections are the straightforward depictions of the many and varied events of the author’s life and her explanations of Vietnamese society and culture. The least successful are the sketchy historical sections and the author’s staunchly anti-Communist analyses of the reasons behind the American defeat. Overall, though, the author shows very well how Le Thi Thu Van went from “being an innocent girl to a sophisticated wife, an unexpected widow, and finally a professional woman,” known on three continents as Jackie Bong Wright.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Source : Virtual Saigon © 1973 New York Times / Barbara Gluck Treaster