Idealistic young North Vietnamese doctor describes her labors in makeshift clinics and hidden hospitals during the escalation of the Vietnam War.
Tram did not survive the war. On June 22, 1970, an American soldier shot her in the head while she was walking down a jungle pathway dressed in the conventional black pajamas of her compatriots. Judging by her diary, rescued from the flames by another American soldier and first published in Vietnam in 2005, she died with a firm commitment to the Communist Party, the reunion of Vietnam, her profession and her patients, many of whom she saved in surgeries conducted under the most primitive and dangerous conditions imaginable. In one of her first entries, on April 12, 1968, she characterizes herself as having “the heart of a lonely girl filled with unanswered hopes and dreams.” This longing and yearning—especially for the lover she rarely sees, a man she names only as “M”—fills these pages and gives them a poignancy that is at times almost unbearable. Early on, Tram records her concerns about being accepted into the Party. She eventually—and gleefully—is, but one of her last entries reveals the results of an evaluation by her political mentors, who say she must battle her “bourgeois” tendencies. It’s a laughable adjective to apply to a young woman dedicating her life to the communists’ political and military cause. Tram blasts the despised Americans over and over, calling them “imperialist,” “invaders,” “bloodthirsty.” She notes with outrage the devastation wrought by bombs, artillery and defoliation. Describing her efforts to treat a young man burned by a phosphorous bomb, she writes, “He looks as if he has been roasted in an oven.”
Urgent, simple prose that pierces the heart.