THE WILL OF HEAVEN: The Story of One Vietnamese and the End of His World by Nguyen Ngoc Ngan

THE WILL OF HEAVEN: The Story of One Vietnamese and the End of His World

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In outline, the story of Vietnamese refugee Nguyen Ngoc Ngan is at once tragic and representative; as told--novelistically, via reconstructed dialogue (""'Isn't it possible,' she finally asked tremulously, 'that we would get one of the flights out of Tan Son Nhut? I know there are many leaving who don't have proper credentials'"")--it has almost no dramatic grab or real-life feel. And little internal tension or conflict. Ex-Saigon schoolteacher Ngan (now, we see from the preface, living in Vancouver) had a relatively simple anti-Communist outlook; his Christian, apparently well-to-do family had fled from the North in 1954. As a young ARVN officer, he saw the peasants alienated by the ""serious lack of discipline"" and the destruction of ""whole villages""; yet he also felt that, with proper US backing, the ARVN forces could have won. (""The Nixon-Kissinger peace was unjust."") Most of the book, however, has to do with Ngan's postwar internment, for nearly three years, in ""reeducation"" camps--after being induced to sign up for a ""ten-day"" course. The first two camps were deserted military bases which the elite ""students"" were supposed to make habitable and maintain (""We, like the Revolutionary Army, would have to make do with what we found around us""); the third was ""Nothing but jungle!""--""Here, said the commandant, ""you will be able to realize the joy of working for survival in a hostile environment."" And there, where Ngan was a prisoner-deputy (in charge of ""cultural affairs"") and thus in close touch with his jailers, we do get some sense of their thinking, dogma apart. (They too are ""shocked"" when female visitors are molested by guards; but, Ngan is told, ""Malaria is not a serious illness. All of us have had malaria."") Much of the story, though, concerns Ngan's personal affairs--his intermittent contacts with his wife, his half-accidental romance with a young woman who supplies the first camp with fish (and who, after learning he's married, selflessly befriends his unsuspecting wife). Released to an impoverished, communized Saigon, and without prospects, he decides to leave--and, within sight of the Malaysian shore, loses his wife and small son in a storm. Unfortunately, the telling is not up to the experience.

Pub Date: Feb. 26th, 1982
Publisher: Dutton