‘Dragon Lady’ Memoirs Incomplete

A Time cover story on Madame Nhu appeared on August 9, 1963.

The official hostess in South Vietnam’s presidential palace says little of her heydays in her book.

The memoirs of Madame Nhu [1924-2011], the « first lady » of South Vietnam who died recently in exile in Rome, are not expected to shed light on her vast wealth and power, according to a family friend.

“Some readers are eagerly waiting for her memoirs because they want to see what she says about the rumor that she had 17 billion U.S. dollars or about the people who killed her husband. She did not mention those stories,” said  Truong Phu Thu, who is  translating the memoirs—already written by her in French— into Vietnamese.

Madame Nhu  was the sister-in-law of Vietnam’s bachelor President Ngo Dinh Diem, who was in power from 1955 until 1963, and considered herself the nation’s First Lady.  She was an influential and deeply feared political figure in the early days of the Vietnam war and was known as the Dragon Lady of South Vietnam.

Her real name was Tran le Xuan but she was popularly known as  Madame Nhu.

Military coup

Her husband, Ngo Dinh Nhu, was Diem’s brother. He controlled the secret police and special forces. Both men were killed in 1963 in a military coup.

“This memoir is not a normal memoir. Normally when you write a memoir, you write about all the stories that happened in your life, both the happy and sad ones, but this book is not like that,” Thu said in an interview.

“Anybody who wants to see sensational stories or any correction of what she had done should be prepared to be disappointed,” he said.

Thu said he had only received the first and second parts of her book—and is unsure if Nhu, who died at the age of 86, finished writing the final part on politics, which many had expected to be sensational.

The book was supposed to be published this September or October, but because of her death publishing will be delayed until next spring.

Nhu  said “she forgave everyone, including people who shot her husband, let alone people who defamed her,” according to Thu.

Meditation

Le Chau Loc, the personal assistant of President Diem who had read part of her book, said she also wrote about  meditation and prayers.

“I thought I was reading a memoir of a nun. I think she was suffering a lot …,” he said. “I think this book can be helpful to a lot of Vietnamese women who have been suffering, [who] lost husbands, or children at sea.”

Many Vietnamese perished when there was a mass emigration in  old and crudely made boats during the late 1970s, fleeing from Communist-controlled Vietnam following the Vietnam War.

Nhu, although married to the president’s brother, helped Diem run his household and offered her opinion on all of his decisions. She was once featured on the cover of Time magazine and became the public face of the South Vietnamese regime in media interviews and overseas speaking tours.

She was particularly outspoken against Buddhist monks who set themselves on fire in protest at Diem’s crackdowns.

Her harsh and confrontational words and actions forced her Buddhist father to quit as ambassador to the United States.

Quiet life

After the deaths of her husband and Diem, Madame Nhu was unable to return to Vietnam. She lived with her children in exile in France and Italy, where she led a quiet life until she was hospitalized in early April.

Thu said he had been receiving phone calls and emails enquiring about Nhu’s book, which she began writing about 10 years ago.

Thu said she first wanted translate it into Italian and English by herself but then changed her mind because it took too much time to write and also after being told her the readers would be mostly Vietnamese.

Reported for RFA’s Vietnamese service and translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Rachel Baker.

Source : RFA, 2011-05-04.