Books by Jane Hamilton-Merritt

Released: Jan. 1, 1993

Passionate but overwritten story of a primitive people being destroyed by modern political forces, by Hamilton-Merritt (A Meditator's Diary, 1976, etc.). This is a cri de coeur on behalf of the Hmong, a tough minority ethnic group who have lived in the highlands of Laos since being driven out of the south China mountains in the 18th century, and who have more recently had the misfortune to ally themselves with the US. The local left saw them as collaborating first with the French, then with a nation that brought high-tech defoliants, B-52s, and napalm to a local war. Hamilton-Merritt's sense of identity with the Hmong, among whom she has lived, is very strong. In their cause, she relates a sometimes overwhelming saga of incidents, often excessively detailed (providing the relative physical sizes of people met by a French agent circa WW II, for example, and the names of countless Laotian people and places) as well as supplying an in-depth context, such as in her description of a Communist attack days after Khrushchev and Kennedy agreed not to fight over Laos. Overall, Hamilton-Merritt's heavy style detracts from what seems to be her central point—the delineation of a brutal, cynical use of the Hmong by the US government. The Hmong, the author contends, were close allies whom the US abandoned, subjecting them to attack by local forces that resented their alliance with the US; and the subsequent near-extermination of the Hmong by Communists using Russian chemical weapons was, the author argues, ignored by the US because of new political priorities. Labored prose and a surfeit of incidentals weigh one down in this ambitious, well-researched, too thorough document. (Photographs.) Read full book review >