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Finding the Dragon Lady: The Mystery of Vietnam's Madame Nhu
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Finding the Dragon Lady: The Mystery of Vietnam's Madame Nhu

3.63 of 5 stars 3.63  ·  rating details  ·  246 ratings  ·  61 reviews
In November 1963, the president of South Vietnam and his brother were brutally executed in a coup that was sanctioned and supported by the American government. President Kennedy later explained to his close friend Paul "Red" Fay that the reason the United States made the fateful decision to get rid of the Ngos was in no small part because of South Vietnam’s first lady, Mad...more
Hardcover, 280 pages
Published September 24th 2013 by PublicAffairs (first published January 1st 2013)
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"Another focus of the article was on Madame Nhu--a woman who seemed to be a fascinating character to the journalists of the time as I found several references to her in more than one Newsweek article, and as many pictures of her in fashionable dress. It's reported that Diem is little more than the puppet of Madame Nhu and her husband, Ngo Dinh Nhu. She's portrayed as an almost comic book like villain--an Asian femme fatale known as 'the dragon lady' by journalists in Saigon. She is described as...more
I had never heard of Madame Nhu before I came across this book, and that's too bad, because she's a fascinating character, and from beginning to end, her circumstances gave her unique "front row seats" to the complicated story of Vietnamese history between the period of French colonialism and the 1975 fall to Communism.

Tran (Nhu) Thi Le Xuan, the titular "Madame Nhu" was born to parents with long, aristocratic pedigrees which extend back to the last Emperor of Vietnam, who lost his kingdom to t...more
This biography documents the author's search for and connection to her elusive subject. Tran Le Xuan, who became Madame Nhu, goes in and out of Monique Brinson Demery's radar.

With all that has been written on Vietnam, it is surprising how little attention Madame Nhu has received. This could be due to her gender, her unofficial role (other than hostess) in her brother-in-law's government or her being on the losing side of history. The book shows the pivotal role she played. She used her position...more
Interesting look at a person and a time and place I didn't know much about. Reading this book, I realized that I knew very little about Vietnam in the lead up to the Vietnam War. More even then the story of Madame Nhu, I found this information interesting. Madame Nhu herself was definitely a worthy subject for a book, but not a particularly likable one. Though I could admire her for being ahead of the times as far as feminism, she really didn't seem like a good, kind person, but rather a very eg...more
Patricia Reding
Jun 08, 2013 Patricia Reding rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Desiree
I attended the BEA show in NYC May 29 to June 1 of this year. Passing through a crowd one day, I came upon a book giveaway and so, I got a copy. Settling into my seat on my flight back a day later, I dug in to read.

I grew up during the Vietnam conflict. Though very young at the time, I remember hearing the news and seeing the pictures flash across the television screen. I remember especially, Malcolm Browne's photo of the burning monk. When I went to college, I studied political science and phil...more
I have to give credit to Monique Brinson Demery for her incredible tenacity, spending over 10 years researching this historically reclusive woman. But therein lies the problem. Monique spent much of the book detailing her problems in getting interviews. She never met Madame Nhu in person and had to piece this book together from the erratic phone calls she received.

Madame Nhu is the dragon lady, the woman who used her feminine wiles to influence the Diem regime, leading to its downfall and Americ...more
Christina Mitchell
History and politics are my favorite topics for nonfiction reading. This biography of notorious Madame Nhu enticed me from the moment it was discussed in a program segment on NPR. Since so little is known of the Dragon Lady of Vietnam, the biography is fascinating. I must extend caution, however. Demery claims she is in possession of Madame Nhu's memoirs, though it does not seem from the author's commentary that much of these memoirs made it into her biography of Madame Nhu. Demery also talks co...more
Cheryl M-M
Women in politics. They are often reduced to the clothes they are wearing and the hairstyle they rock. In a predominantly male driven aspect of society the female is usually merely the wife of, daughter of or mistress of a man in power. Not enough women take center stage in government and when they do they are scrutinized and criticized far harsher than their male counterparts.
Madame Nhu was only the sister in law of the man in charge and yet she and her family exerted the strongest influence on...more
Erin Cataldi
An intriguing and insightful work on the legend (and the truth) of South Vietnam's Madame Nhu. Before reading this novel I had virtually no idea who she was, where she was from, or why she was important. But after reading this I can say I've learned a great deal and am amazed I hadn't come across this stunning woman earlier!

Monique Brinson Demery does a masterful job of weaving the mysterious Madame Nhu's life together and manages to create a rich tapestry of mystery and intrigue. This novel als...more
Dragon Lady" it was recommended based on my reading preferences here on Goodreads and then caught my eye because Monique Brinson Demerey and I both attended Hobart & William Smith Colleges. Having recently visited Vietnam on academic sabbatical, I found this tremendously interesting. This first book is quite an achievement! It was clearly a labor of love but also reflects an appreciation for storytelling and research. Like many of the readers, I knew very little about Madame Nhu. This colorf...more
Walk-Minh Allen
The name "Madame Nhu" conjured for me the image of a political puppeteer who through sheer will and enigmatic beauty could influence anyone in her path with either the wave of her hand or the swipe of her caustic tongue. Only tangentially did I know anything about Madame Nhu from reading brief descriptions about her, here and there, in other books about the Vietnam War. In my younger years, I remember watching news footage of her during the Buddhist crisis and listening to her notoriously remark...more
Christian Shute
This was an excellent biography of a woman misunderstood, vilified, and forgotten. The story of Madame Nhu is the story of Vietnam and America's involvement there. Rather than just the big picture of Cold War politics, this book tells the story of a woman who saw herself as the savior of Vietnam and its women.
While I always enjoy books on history, biographies and the Vietnam War era is particularly fascinating, he thing that drew me to this book was the cover. Fabulous! In this book the author alternates between her quest for and on-and-off-again telephone conversations with the mysterious Madame Nhu and a brisk and lively account of her life in Vietnam. As the sister-in-law to the head of state of South Vietnam, Madam Nhu acted as de facto First Lady of her nation and courted controversy both at hom...more
I caught this author on a CSPAN/BookTV show and was immediately engaged, not only with the author, but with the story.

I loved both Ms. Demery's giddy sort of "passion" for Madame Nhu's story, but also the internecine intrigue surrounding this mysterious "Dragon Lady."

It is clear the Ms. Demery was the loving parent in her relationship with Madame Nhu, as she patiently dealt with tantrums, long periods of silence and drama all the while gleaning as much as she could from this exasperating woman....more
Kevin Tran
As a biography of this most flamboyant character in modern Vietnam history, it was very thin and unsatisfactory. As an essay of the author in finding the "Dragon Lady", it was interesting at times but also frustrating as it led to nowhere. As a re-told story of Vietnam during the 50's-60's, of the assassination of President Diem and Mr Nhu 3 weeks before JFK's, of the link of JFK and involvement of the US with the ordeal in South Vietnam during the Cold War, it was still frightening to read. Ove...more
A friendly and accessible bio/memoir of how the writer got a hold of a reclusive, historically controversial figure and coaxed enough conversation out of her to piece together a memoir. It doesn't give a hard-hitting look at Madame Nhu, presumably because there's plenty of folks out there who vilify her (to the extreme, Demery would argue). It's a gentle, friendly introduction to the Diem era of Vietnam.

I would also say Demery's treatment of Mme. Nhu, while seemingly too gentle, is still better...more
I requested this book because I had wanted to know more about the Vietnam War. In school my history classes usually focused on three time periods, the American Revolution, the Civil War and WWII. However, despite my curiosity I am not usually fond of picking up history tomes and going at it. Biographies are so much easier and reader friendly for me, especially when they’re about women. Finding the Dragon Lady was both intriguing and enlightening; I learned so much from this book and am ready to...more
Viet Lam
Having listened to Mrs. Demery's interview on The Daily Show, I got a copy from the library and started reading. I appreciate the background information that Mrs. Demery provided, and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in Vietnamese history!

Being born in Vietnam myself, and younger than her children, I have certain bias against Madam Nhu. The "barbecued monk" comment really rubbed me the wrong way. But, have resided in the US for quite a while, I am open minded enough to try to see w...more
Interestingly, regardless of who is right and who is wrong, Demery writes a thought provoking view of Vietnam as a country as well as those who sat in power seats in Vietnam, the United States, France and China in the mid twentieth century. Madam Nhu is the central character in this book, and she is portrayed as a less than perfect person. But let's see, who is perfect and who was right? Demery's view makes for very provocative reading - both internationally and personally.
Very interesting bio specifically about the part " the dragon lady" played in Vietnam's history.
Also interesting as to the chain of events that led the author to successfully communicate with her and obtain her memoirs.
I was surprised at how little I knew about the history of the country. The author did years of research.
The only thing missing from the book were lots of photographs! I read the book on kindle so perhaps
There were photos in the actual book? Mme was such a colorful character - phot...more
A. Bishop
This is a great biography about Madame Nhu. I was born in the generation worrying about Nicaragua and the Gulf War not the Vietnam war, but it was still a meaningful read for me. The Vietnam war and the politics leading up to it were always a bit of a mystery to me. The best I received from school was it was america trying to block communists from spreading. The facts presented in this book, and the narrative spun around them are just a fascinating read. I picked this book up after it was on the...more
This was a very interesting story of Madame Nhu, the first lady under the Diem regime in Vietnam. I know precious little of the history that got us into Vietnam, so this was my entree into some of that history. The book is written as the authors encounter with Madame Nhu. They do in phone interviews for years, which the author supplements with fact finding through research and and other interviews.
The story of Tran Thi Le Xuan who would become Madame Nhu, the first lady of Vietman. And also much more. The early chapters provide a good overview of the history of Vietnam and the culture and traditions of the country at the time. While well documented and historically accurate parts of the story read like a novel. For me (who grew up toward the end of the Vietnam War) it was a fascinating story. That the author would find the long exiled Dragon Lady and establish a relationship with her is a...more
Loretta Revers
She is a first time author. My daughter ( her friend) recommended this book. I like her style of writing and got into it from the Prologue. Monique found Madame Nhu living in Paris and was able to get a great interview with her. Madame Nhu has been in exile many years. My husband does some teaching at Universities in Viet Nam so I found her story interesting. Learning about how they are changing some customs to fit in with the modern world is very interesting for me. Females were always looked u...more
This book told the story of a fascinating character, Madame Nhu who has been a mystery since she went into exile after the coup that killed her husband and brother-in-law, the President of South Vietnam, during the Cold War. A woman who craved power, exerted tremendous political influence, and was also admired for her beauty. She was a very public figure but shrouded by mystery. Demery uncovers her story through personal interviews with this private individual and extensive research.

I have been...more
Adam Gray
Really enjoyed this book. Monique is an excellent author who did a great job of retelling the life and intrigue of Madame Nhu. She intricately weaves between her personal communication with Nhu, and retelling the historical narrative of her subjects life. I was blown away that this was Demery's first published book, and can not wait to see what other works she creates in the future. Highly recommend this for anyone who wants to know more about Vietnam or is interested in a very flamboyant women...more
Craig Scanlan
Perhaps a 3.5. Not quite sure why I didn't like it more. Was certainly an interesting window into a piece of Vietnam I didn't know much about.

I think Balkan Ghosts was so enjoyable that it tainted my opinions on reading this right after it.
Margaret Sankey
Demery went looking for the elderly, exiled Madame Nhu in Paris, eventually convincing her to entrust Demery with her memoirs (bizarre manuscripts of date, codes and phrases), phone calls and permission to track down the scattered Diem entourage of former servants, in-laws, advisers and enemies. This is an attempt to piece together a more realistic picture of Madame Nhu's influence on the Diem regime, the tangled background of imperial Vietnamese and collaborationist Japanese family history, and...more
Amulya Malladi
What a beautifully researched book! I absolutely loved it. The writer elegantly wove what she learnt and her struggles with Madam Nhu with so much research. I watched her on John Stewart and then had to buy the book. Highly recommended.
A good, quick, but still fascinating read. It's actually a lot less biased than the quotes on the back of the book imply. That's a pretty important characteristic, considering the author more or less knew Madame Nhu personally.
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Monique Demery's first book, Finding the Dragon Lady: The Mystery of Vietnam's Madame Nhu, will be published in September, 2013 by PublicAffairs Books.

Monique graduated from Hobart and William Smith Colleges and received a Master's degree in Asian Studies from Harvard University. She lives with her family in Chicago, IL.
More about Monique Brinson Demery...
They Are All My Family: A Daring Rescue in the Chaos of Saigon�s Fall

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“How did a woman who was not even forty years old—and barely five feet tall in heels—come to command the full attention of a superpower like America” 0 likes
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