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The Story of Kim Phuc and the Photograph That Changed the Course of the Vietnam War

by Denise Chong

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-670-88040-X
Publisher: Viking

The tale of the girl, Kim Phuc, who survived the napalm burns (the result of "friendly fire") that sent her fleeing in terror and pain into history.

Via interviews, documents, and published reports, Chong (The Concubine's Children, 1995) reconstitutes the life of Kim Phuc in the context of her family and her war-torn, economically stricken country. That Kim, as she now calls herself, did not die from her wounds is virtually a miracle; she was raced to a hospital by the photographer, Nick Ut, who took the picture. The middle of nine children and in frequent pain from the scars and consequences of her burns, Kim survived near-starvation and the primitive living conditions forced on her once prosperous family by war and politics and even managed to qualify for medical school. It was her mother Nu's noodle shop that kept the family going, its ups and downs the stuff of mythology as it follows the course of war, peace, and vindictive bureaucracy. Kim was rediscovered by the international press and used by the now-Communist Vietnam regime as a propaganda tool. Befriended by prime minister Pham Van Dong, successor to Ho Chi Minh, she eventually persuaded the government to send her to Cuba to study. In Cuba, she met her future husband, and together they defected to the West. Today, she lives with her husband, two children, and her parents in Toronto and travels frequently to speak on behalf of world peace.

Simply told, with a delicate political balance for the most part carefully managed, the story of the girl in the photograph is one of horror, survival, and hope—a primer if not the definitive text for those trying to understand the Vietnam war. (b&w photos)