Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Postcards from Nam

Postcards from Nam is the third book in Uyen Nicole Duong’s “Fall of South Vietnam” trilogy, so I suspect that I would have been more emotionally invested in this book’s characters had I first read the earlier books in the trilogy.  But even without that background material, I have to say that this little 89-page novella makes for a powerful reading experience. 

The fall of South Vietnam was a tragedy for everyone involved, but especially so for those unable to get out of the country before it was overwhelmed by the enemy.  The lucky ones were airlifted along with the last of the American troops whom were themselves scrambling to get out before it was too late.  The unlucky ones left behind, if they really wanted to leave, had to risk everything in a desperate attempt to escape the country by sea.  These boat people, if they managed to survive the sea and attacks by pirates, ended up in refugee camps from which they hoped to immigrate to a country willing to offer them a fresh start.

Mimi was one of the lucky ones.  Now living in Houston after a successful career as a Washington D.C. attorney, she lives in self-imposed isolation as a working writer.  She has no friends, and expects to hear from no one – until a reminder from her past arrives one day to shake up her world.  A lone, oversized postcard from Thailand, something she had never expected to see again, waits for her amidst the day’s junk mail, and causes Mimi to flashback to 1988 when the cards first began arriving.

The one-of-a-kind postcards, obviously produced by an artist of some talent, are signed by a person calling himself “Nam,” a name that means nothing to Mimi.   The brief, but intimate, messages written on each of the cards make Mimi determined to learn the identity of her mysterious correspondent.  For the next ten years, she will search for the meaning of the cards and the identity of their creator. 

Uyen Nicole Duong
Pseudonym of Duong Nhu Nguyen
Postcards from Nam is a blunt, eyes-wide-open look at what it was like for first generation South Vietnamese refugees and their children to begin life in the country that had failed to stop the communist invaders from North Vietnam.  The families of former army officers, politicians, government workers, businessmen, and others tied to the U.S. effort, reorganized themselves into new communities in the U.S. from which they drew financial and moral support.  All well and good, but not everyone arrived with a clear conscious about the past.  Some lived in fear that, if the whole truth about them were discovered, they would have to face the wrath of others seeking personal revenge for old wrongs.

Mimi’s efforts to identify the sender of her mysterious postcards force her to remember things about her childhood she had long suppressed, a process that gives the reader terrific insights into the life she left behind and into the assimilation challenges she faced in this country.

Rated at: 4.0

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

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