A sprawling attempt to chronicle a large Vietnamese family buffeted by French colonization, WWII, and the French and American wars. Elliott was born into an upper-middle-class family in northern Vietnam. Her long book tells her family's story in detail, beginning with her great-grandfather, a mandarin who died in 1920. Elliott's goal is to weave the many stories over four generations into a tale that reflects, "in miniature, the history of Vietnam in the modern era." After five years of researching and interviewing, Elliott has come up with a book that partially reaches her lofty goal. That's because the book tells the story of only one portion of Vietnamese society and sheds precious little light on the country's large peasant class, the urban working class, or the intelligentsia. Elliott tells her own family's story well and in great detail. She begins with her formidable great-grandfather Duong Lam and then chronicles the next three generations of the Duong clan. Most of the males held high-level government jobs or did well in business. That includes Elliott's father, who was mayor of Haiphong during the last years of French rule. Most of the author's family fled to Saigon when the Vietnamese Communists took over North Vietnam in 1946, and most left Saigon in April 1975 just before the Communist takeover there. Elliott, who studied foreign affairs at Georgetown University in the early 1960s, married an American and has lived in this country since 1968. Her writing comes alive most effectively in the first-person sections in which she describes growing up in Hanoi and Saigon and coming of age in Washington. The least successful parts of the book are the facile, generalized attempts at relating Vietnamese historical events. A good look at Vietnam's recent history through the lives of a middle-class family.
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