Huyen recounts growing up during politically perilous times in Vietnam.
Debut author Huyen was born in 1936 in Cat Ba, North Vietnam. Her father had a prominent position working with the French Vietnamese at a customs house, and her family enjoyed a safe, prosperous life in a palatial home. Her happy world was shattered, however, when the French left and the Japanese invaded, forcing her family from her house. Her father lost his job and was all but bankrupt, and the author gave up her dreams of a good education. Not only did the family suffer from poverty and rootlessness, but also regular bombings from American combat planes. The Japanese occupation eventually ended, but then the Chinese invaded, and the Communists took over. Huyen’s mother sold rice to make ends meet. The family moved to Saigon as part of a program sponsored by the United States, and the author’s mother had her birth certificate falsified so she could work as a tailor. The family was impoverished until a family friend lent them a considerable sum of money in return for Huyen moving to Laos to help her with her business. In Laos, predatory males plagued her; she turned down an offer to become a wealthy man’s mistress, despite the financial boon the arrangement would have been for her family. She was repeatedly assaulted and raped by her employers and impregnated by one of them. Huyen’s remembrance is a heart-rending one of a life upended by geopolitical tumult. Some readers will find her accounts of sexual assault hard to read and her responses to them bewildering. She claims to miss one employer who tried to rape her more than once and “was moved” by the affection of another immediately after he raped her. This remains an affecting tale, nonetheless, told simply and powerfully by a remarkably resilient woman.
A haunting, cleareyed account of the hardships imposed by war and tyranny.