Review of Memory is Another Country

February 21st, 2011 by Laura Chirot, NM-TLC Reviewer /// Nathalie Huynh Chau Nguyen, Memory is another country. Women of the Vietnamese Diaspora, Santa Barbara, California: Praeger, 2009, 212 p.

In his memoir Perfume Dreams, Vietnamese-American writer Andrew Lam recalls his initial impressions of the United States as an eleven year old refugee. The son of a general in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam who fled Saigon with his parents in 1975, Lam wondered at the insularity of his American classmates’ lives. He remembers thinking, “There were times… when I was very envious of you. History happened to others on TV and you—you who grew up where everyone else wanted to live—could always change the channel. Other times I felt sorry for you. Your immunity from history robs you of the awe and appreciation of seeing how its powerful flow and surge can change everyone, near or far” (1). In twentieth-century Vietnam, as in wartime Europe and other societies rent by war, nobody was immune to the powerful flow and surge of history, which seared people’s private lives.

In Memory is Another Country: Women of the Vietnamese Diaspora, Nathalie Huynh Chau Nguyen tells the stories of dozens of Vietnamese women in Australia whose lives were shaped by war, revolution and exodus. Nguyen’s narrators discuss their childhoods, families, marriages, careers, losses and refugee experiences.

The book’s haunting postwar images are familiar in the literature of the Vietnamese diaspora: “re-education” expected to last ten days but stretching into a nightmare of months and years; entire families drowning at sea; the corrosive effects of forced exile on family life; and the ever present yearning for an irrevocably lost homeland.

What makes this book remarkable is the number of stories that it collects—the author interviewed forty-two women over the course of a three year oral history project—and its focus on women. Despite the abundant documentation of the Vietnamese refugee experience, Nguyen points out, narratives from the women of South Vietnam are largely absent from the record. Cultural constraints, the pressure to provide for their families in countries of resettlement, the lack of public fora, and the impulse to bury past sorrows under silence are all factors that have kept women from telling their stories.

Nguyen sets out to remedy this absence, in detail and with compassion. She organizes her narrators’ stories into thematic chapters on loss, sisterhood, female soldiers, war, marriage to foreigners and return to Vietnam. Each chapter highlights between two and four women.

Nguyen lets her narrators—identified only by first name—speak for themselves, using long, uninterrupted blocks of quotation. Their narratives are bracketed by Nguyen’s commentary on historical contexts and common themes, and overlaid with theories of trauma and memory.

The theoretical aspect of the book focuses on the construction of memory after traumatic experiences, and the emotional, cultural and gendered aspects of making memory. Against this background, the book’s title takes on two meanings: memory is another country, the lost homeland of South Vietnam, but memory is also a country in itself, where the “memoryscape” is peopled with living and dead relatives and contoured with villages and city boulevards frozen in the past.

The most compelling aspect of Memory Is Another Country is the stories themselves, which form a collage of images of wartime and postwar Vietnam, viewed from the refugeenarrators’ perspective. A nanny remembers seeing children die by the side of a road in the North during the 1945 famine. A former diplomat in South Vietnam’s foreign service falls in love with an Englishman while posted in Europe. A singer performs in nightclubs in the South with the famous Khánh Ly. A southern provincial cinema is bombed by “the Viet Cong” during the screening of a Japanese action film in 1972. A Catholic girl and her family flee south from Thanh Hóa in 1954, paying off Viet Minh cadres along the way, and are greeted by representatives of the International Rescue Committee in Saigon. Another narrator is sheltered during her flight south by her uncle Phan Huy Quát, a State of Vietnam minister of defense who would later serve briefly as prime minister of the Republic of Vietnam. A daughter of Vietnamese colonial administrators leads a privileged, cosmopolitan life in the Phnom Penh of the 1950s and 1960s; her aunt, married to a cousin of Norodom Sihanouk, is later executed by the Khmer Rouge. Before escaping Vietnam by boat, another woman obsessively studies the English names for 200 types of diseases, in case she falls ill while abroad. An overseas Vietnamese returns to her birthplace in Nghệ An in the 1990s to learn that her mother, a benevolent landlord who provided meals for peasants during the 1945 famine, had been denounced during the land reform campaign by those very same peasants.

A set of particularly evocative stories emerges from Nguyen’s narrators’ memories of South Vietnamese society. The women remember a cosmopolitan Republic of Vietnam that accords with Hue-Tam Ho Tai’s observation: “In both the nostalgic recollections of disaffected southerners and the wishful projections of envious northerners, this pre-1975 South is not marked by war, chaos or corruption, but represents an era of abundant consumer goods and relative freedom” (2). These women came of age in the 1950s and 1960s, many as members of prosperous urban families, and they remember the South as a place where young women could pursue their intellectual and professional dreams—dreams which were, of course, quashed with the end of the war. One woman studies medicine and hopes to become a hospital director, inspired by her father who is a prominent acupuncturist and South Vietnamese official. In 1975 she is ejected from university because of her family’s political background. A second woman is in her final year of law school at the University of Saigon when the war ends and the new government shuts down the university. The sharp rupture of April 1975 accentuates the women’s nostalgia for pre-socialist years.

Particularly poignant is the reminiscence of the daughter of booksellers in Biên Hòa who recalls that before 1975, “I read Tolstoy, Romain Rolland, Balzac, Thomas Hardy, I read all the Western writers before I read any Vietnamese books” (p. 16). Her parents’ bookstore and books are destroyed in the postwar campaign against decadent literature:

After 1975, all the books were confiscated and taken away by the government, including all the textbooks of biology, mathematics, physics, chemistry, all the dictionaries and you know things that are not ideological . . . [I]n order to create a fair society, a socialist society, individuals had to make sacrifices so my father’s bookshops happened to be in the pathway of history, and history had just crushed my father’s business in order to make everyone enlightened. (p. 21)

The narrators who do try to accommodate themselves to life in a communist society find themselves unable to do so. The daughter of an ethnic Chinese woman in Buôn Ma Thuột joins a youth singing troupe after the end of the war. She is shunned and called bộ đội (the term for communist soldiers) by her old friends, but as tensions flare along the northern border she is compelled to sing anti-Chinese songs and must also endure ethnic slurs from fellow members of the troupe. Another narrator remembers having constant headaches from the incessant blaring of the ubiquitous public loudspeakers that became hallmarks of life after April 1975.

The book’s most interesting historical contribution comes in its third chapter, which chronicles women’s participation in the armed services of South Vietnam. The Women’s Armed Forces Corps (WAFC) originated in the 1950s as an auxiliary corps. By 1975 it consisted of 6,000 women serving in non-combat positions (mostly as nurses). Nguyen argues that, while women’s contribution to the war in the North has been amply recorded, the contribution of women to the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces and the southern war effort has gone largely unrecognized. (One reason is the imbalance in numbers: 60,000 women may have served in the war-time People’s Army of Vietnam.) She interviews four former servicewomen, women who saw service as a route to adventure, independence, and better social status for their families. One woman, Thuy, was a 1954 migrant to the South who joined the WAFC parachute unit, “to hasten the possibility of returning to North Vietnam” (p. 63). Another, Quy, was a student at Saigon’s prestigious Gia Long High School who joined after a Viet Minh cadre threatened to denounce her family in revenge for her refusal to marry him. (Quy’s family later received news that the cadre died in battle.) The women’s patriotism is on full display: one narrator says, “I was in the armed forces and I know that our army fought bravely and tenaciously. They were not lukewarm in their fighting” (p. 84).

At the war’s end, all four of Nguyen’s female veterans were sent to re-education camps. Women who had served in the armed forces and civil service of the Republic of Vietnam, as well as those caught attempting to flee the newly reunified country, could be arrested. Yet there is no re-education memoir published in English or French and written by a woman to accompany the numerous male accounts. One of the narrators was pregnant during her three months of internment. Another describes writing interminable self-criticisms, terrified each time that she would slip and write an inconsistent detail. Lest we think, though, that things were simple, a third narrator describes the humane treatment that prisoners at her camp received from the camp’s sympathetic (and southern) female director. Chapter 3 ends with a moving description of contemporary women’s veterans’ associations, the most invisible and forgotten branch of an already forgotten and much maligned armed force, organizing marches and charity drives in California to aid ailing female veterans in Vietnam.

Decisions about the organization of narrative material are crucial to a collection like this one. Nguyen does not make clear why she chose the particular chapter themes that she did, which overlap somewhat (for example, “war” and “loss” run throughout every story). Nor does she explain why only half of the 42 women interviewed are featured in the book.

A question never addressed in Memory Is Another Country is the ways in which the memories of women who came of age in the Republic of Vietnam and stayed in Vietnam differ from those who left. Would women who did not endure the bitter refugee experience have the same nostalgia for South Vietnam, and for the same reasons? Quite possibly—wistfulness for the intellectual and social freedoms of pre-1975 Saigon is evident even today in conversations with older people in Ho Chi Minh City. But the Vietnamese diaspora is not the sole repository of memories of South Vietnam, and there is a growing (though still restricted) space in contemporary Vietnam for discussion of pre-1975 South Vietnamese society. Some comparison of memory in the diaspora and in contemporary Vietnam might augment the book’s narrative.

As it is, however, Nathalie Huynh Chau Nguyen’s recording of the stories of this aging generation is extremely valuable. She tells us that the act of remembering, and of documenting memory, is redemptive. The ultimate purpose of her book is not to substantiate or dispute historical facts, but to honor the memories, and thereby the lives and losses, of women of the Vietnamese diaspora.

Laura Chirot graduated from Harvard College in 2008. She spent 2009 and 2010 on the research staff of Vietnam Program of the Harvard Kennedy School ( in Ho Chi Minh City.

1. Andrew Lam, Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora (Berkeley: Heyday Books, 2005), p. 43.
2. Hue-Tam Ho Tai, The Country of Memory: Remaking the Past in Late Socialist Vietnam (Berkeley and Lost Angeles: University of California Press, 2001), p. 182.

Source : New Mandala

Aperçu sur Google Books

Gina Marie Weaver : Ideologies of Forgetting – Rape in the Vietnam War

Gina Marie Weaver, Ideologies of Forgetting. Rape in the Vietnam War, New York, State University of New York Press, 2010, 198 p.

First book to study rape and sexual abuse of Vietnamese women by U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War.

Rape has long been a part of war, and recent conflicts in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur demonstrate that it may be becoming an even more integral strategy of modern warfare. In contrast to the media attention to sexual violence against women in these recent conflicts, however, the incidence and consequences of rape in the Vietnam War have been largely overlooked. Using testimony, oral accounts, literature, and film, Ideologies of Forgetting focuses on the rape and sexual abuse of Vietnamese women by U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War, and argues that the erasure and elision of these practices of sexual violence in the U.S. popular imagination perpetuate the violent masculinity central to contemporary U.S. military culture. Gina Marie Weaver claims that recognition of this violence is important not just for an accurate historical record, but also to truly understand the Vietnam veteran’s trauma, which often stems from his aggression rather than his victimization.

“This is exactly the moment to take a new hard hook at the incidents of rape in the U.S. war in Vietnam—and its extended consequences for both the victims and the perpetrators of those rapes.” — Cynthia Enloe, author of Globalization and Militarism: Feminists Make the Link

“At a time when the phrase ‘support our troops’ has become a national mantra, recognition of how that support was enabled and narrativized becomes even more important.” — Susan Jeffords, author of The Remasculinization of America: Gender and the Vietnam War

Gina Marie Weaver is Assistant Professor of English at Southern Nazarene University.

Aperçu sur Google Books

Vietnamese Women in the War: a review – by Ernest Bolt

Many Americans who are more or less familiar with our Vietnam Experience know less about American women in the war. Many think all American women who were in Vietnam were nurses. Later our class will focus more on American women, but the People’s War materials must certainly include Vietnamese women and the war. Yet this is probably the least known and the last-studied aspect of the Vietnam Wars.

This has begun to change, however, and our Duiker text, Sacred War, is a good example of such change. Even better indicators of scholarly interest in Vietnamese women in the war are two recently published works by historians.


Dr. Karen G. Turner is an East Asia scholar at Holy Cross College who published, with the assistance of Hanoi journalist-interpreter Thanh Hao Phan, Even the Women Must Fight: Memories of War from North Vietnam (1998).


From army reports, diaries, and oral interviews, Turner and Thanh offer the reader a sampling of stories told by North Vietnamese women who fought in the Vietnamese wars against both the French and the Americans. One interesting outcome of their work was production of a map showing places of significance to these women — places they fought and survived and places where others died. The map, on page xii, shows some already familiar places but also some less well known to other scholars of the war.

The Turner-Thanh study is also well-illustrated with photos of women veterans who were interviewed as well as many from the Vietnam Women’s Museum in Hanoi. This is a museum which honors the roles of women from both the north, from the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and the south — from the Republic of Vietnam.

Students and other readers of Even the Women Must Fight will also become familiar with Vietnamese heroines. Among them is Madame Nguyen Thi Dinh, who is featured on this People’s War module.

Others, not as frequently noted by historians and political scientists, include Nguyen Thi Duc Hoan, actress-director and film maker in Hanoi. Several of her films deal with Hanoi youth and war-related service and/or women’s issues: “From a Jungle” (1978), “Love and Distance” (1980s), “Obsession” (1978), “Love Story by a River” (1991).

She left home as a young girl to participate in the anti-French resistance and was a guerrilla fighter by the time the Americans came in large numbers. Her daughter by then, in the 1960s, trained in the militia. Turner quotes from her interview of Duc Hoan: “At no other time in Vietnam’s history was the will of the people more necessary for national survival. When even the gentlest Vietnamese woman could be inspired to enter the male world of violence for her country and when she learned to do the job well, the war had become in reality a total people’s war.” (p. 47)

Another Vietnamese woman whom Turner profiles is Ngo Thi Tuyen. Her heroism relates to her key role, in April 1965, in the supplying of Vietnamese defense of Dragon’s Jaw Bridge, a key point on the Highway 1 north-south artery in Vietnam. Rebuilt and dedicated in 1964, American air attacks the next year failed to destroy it; it was not until 1972 that American bombing efforts accomplished that goal. Ngo Thi Tuyen had helped down some of the attacking American planes on April 3 and 4, 1965. Until the present day, she has been honored with badges and frequent celebrations of her heroism. Turner effectively mixes and compares Vietnamese accounts and American accounts of the April 4 U.S. efforts — reported as the dropping of over 300 bombs. She concludes that this was one of the frequent tests of wills.

Turner relates Ngo Thi Tuyen’s story, based on her 1997 interview with the former militia woman. The setting was the local “commemoration house,” a type of local museum which depicts the bridge and the role of Tuyen and others to defend it. She told of the recent visit of former American POW Jeremiah Denton, one of the pilots shot down and captured during the mission in which Tuyen had figured so prominently.

The Vietnamese today have many museums, and I have visited some of them. The ones in Thanh Hoa Province, however, are among those I still must visit. This was the province in which the Dragon bridge was located, a province with a thousand-year revolutionary history. Many young men and women in the province contributed to the war effort in the Volunteer Youth Corps, working on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, or in local militia forces.

Work on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, in fact, is the subject of three chapters, one-third of Even the Women Must Fight. Due to the importance of this trail and its significance in helping to determine the outcome of the Vietnam War with the U.S., this emphasis is justified. The author engages in thick description and uses many examples of women (and men) who worked on the trail. Teenagers with shovels and AK-47s kept the trail cleared and repaired following constant bombing attacks. They worked under severe hardships and relied on local support rather than significant government and army support. According to Turner, citing Vietnamese media attention recently, they have also not received the postwar services that they deserve. Turner’s examples of women she interviewed, road builders, members of the Youth Corps, and veterans of special groups (such as Troop C814), are numerous, and the testimony of most was similar. They performed war duties not to defend socialism or to win a global struggle; rather they defended their homeland as a “place to raise future generations.” As Turner puts it, they left home to “save home.” (p. 82)

One of the best features of this study is the use of several postwar paintings by Nguyen Ngoc Tuan, a militia woman during the war. It is also interesting to note evidence, once more, that the Vietnamese write and treasure poetry. Examples of Vietnamese writing furnished in this study also include womens’ memoir writings. Some writings of women warriors used by Turner are in the Combined Document Exploitation Center (CDEC) in Saigon. She utilized those records of life and service data to draw examples and to find meanings of women’s war experiences. Those materials, according to Turner, reflect greater evidence of discrimination against women than is often recalled from memory today. The CDEC records cover the 1966 to 1973 period and remain a little-used resource for examining individual war experiences.

When dealing with “Meanings,” Turner turns more and more to an analysis of the 1990s based upon her broader observations in Hanoi and northern Vietnam while engaged in her research and interviews. She relates, for example, her visit to Dien Bien Phu and the memorials in the Vietnamese cemetery there. One of the most interesting statues to her is that of two women standing and shielding a young soldier. There is also a stone mural commemorating the role of women porters. From selected examples in recent Vietnamese literature by men and women writers, she also draws meanings, including the postwar treatment of war mothers as martyrs and symbols of Vietnamese endurance and sacrifice. She also connects her sources and analysis to present women’s issues in Vietnam, concluding that “the (women) survivors who live poorly have become potent symbols of the costs of war.” (p. 179)


Dr. Sandra C. Taylor, Professor of History at the University of Utah, is the author of the most-recent book on Vietnamese women in the war. Vietnamese Women at War: Fighting for Ho Chi Minh and the Revolution (1999) is a brief but excellent study and is part of the Modern War Studies series of University Press of Kansas.


Taylor, as does Turner, uses many interviews chiefly to preserve and attempt to understand the stories of women at war. Her sample, she acknowledges, is not a “valid” one, but it is a broader one than that of Turner. Professor Taylor’s interviews are with more women warriors who were part of the southern insurgency and fewer of her subjects fought in the north. She regards her work, therefore, a “preliminary attempt to understand the women warriors,” (p. 7) as “the tip of an iceberg” (p. 165). Taylor’s book, however, is well-grounded in her knowledge of the Vietnam Wars, and she has engaged in field research in Vietnam for more than a dozen years. Among her sources is the large and quite rich Pike Collection, now housed in Texas Tech’s Vietnam Archives, where Douglas Pike is located. Some of her eighteen pages of photographs are also from that collection.

Because women played such an important role along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Taylor’s study also frequently provides a focus on that angle. Her most thoroughly treated women warriors, however, include Nguyen Thi Dinh, one of the original “long-haired warriors,” warrior-diplomat Nguyen Thi Binh, Cu Chi guerrilla Ho Thi Bi, and warrior-physician Duong Quynh Hoa.

Taylor’s major examples are among the “long-haired warriors” in the southern revolutionary movement and opposition to the Republic of Vietnam and the U.S. Students would profit from reading just chapter four on that group of women. This subject should be of interest to students especially because both Turner and Taylor recognize the importance of emphasizing the youthfulness of Vietnam’s warriors. Recommended, therefore, is Taylor’s chapter five, “Youth at War.”

Other excellent features of Taylor’s book include her comments on poetry and her discussion of memory theory in relation to use of oral history — both her own and previously-collected interviews by our military. Students should especially note her conclusions concerning the stories told to her (p. 18). As in the case of Turner, Taylor finds Vietnamese poetry “a living testimony to the will power of the insurgents” whom we fought. (p. 15)

Read together, these two recent books will inform the reader and yet still leave some unanswered questions. Perhaps the result for students in this course will be further reading or research on women’s roles in Vietnam’s wars.

Dr. Ernest Bolt, University of Richmond

Source : University of Richmond

Séminaire “Mémoires d’Indochine” : Séance 5

Année universitaire 2012-2013 / Master Asie Orientale Contemporaine (ASIOC) / Semestre 1


Mémoires d’Indochine :

Regards internes sur la décolonisation et la guerre

au Viêt-Nam, Laos et Cambodge


Séance 5 – vendredi 26 octobre 2012

« Femmes, guerre, décolonisation »

* * *

Cette séance abordera la question des femmes aux prises d’une décolonisation brutale et leur mobilisation dans la guerre civile vietnamienne de part et d’autre du 17ème  Parallèle. Pour illustrer cette thématique, on s’intéressera aux parcours révolutionnaires féminins et aux stratégies de survie de femmes face aux violences de guerre.


Extraits de textes à discuter :

  • Le Ly Hayslip, avec la collaboration de Jay Wurts, Entre le ciel et la terre, Paris, Editions du Seuil / mémoire, octobre 1993, pp. 67-101 [+ dos de couverture].
  • Xuan Phuong, [avec la collaboration de] Danièle Mazingarbe, Ao Dai. Du couvent des Oiseaux à la jungle du Viêt-minh, Paris, Plon, 2001, pp. 53-85 [+ dos de couverture].

* * *

Exposés oraux :


Pour aller plus loin :

  • Doan Cam Thi, « Femme, fantasme et guerre. Genèse d’une parole libre dans “La survivante de la Forêt qui rit”, nouvelle vietnamienne de 1991 », La revue des ressources, 2 avril 2007.
  • Nathalie Huynh Chau Nguyen, Memory is another country. Women of the Vietnamese Diaspora, Santa Barbara, California: Praeger, 2009.
  • Phan Thanh Hao & Karen G. Turner, Even the Women Must Fight. Memories of War from North Vietnam, New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1998.
  • Sandra C. Taylor, Vietnamese Women at war. Fighting for Ho Chi Minh and the revolution, Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, Modern war studies, 1999.
  • Gina Marie Weaver, Ideologies of Forgetting. Rape in the Vietnam War, New York, State University of New York Press, 2010.