Chrissie's Reviews > The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family

The Sacred Willow by Duong Van Mai Elliott
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Apr 12, 12

bookshelves: history, bio, kirkus, text-checked, vietnam, 2012challenge
Read from April 05 to 10, 2012

On completion:

ETA: After reading this book you must read about the Quiet War in Laos and the Hmong who fought it: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures

Do you really want to understand the Vietnam War? This book is about a Vietnamese family that lived through it. What is special about this book is that the author saw all sides of the war. In her own family some were on the side of the Viet Minh and others supported the French and then the Americans. Never did any of the family stop being family to each other. The author was in fact educated in the US, married an American and worked for the Rand Corporation, employed to study the motives of the Viet Minh. Through this book you learn of all parts of the war. All sides are fairly represented and rather than being observed, lived. There is much history documented, so the book is not for those who want a quick read. After reading this book I have a much better understanding of the war. As I stated below it starts with life of the author(s great grandfather, a Mandarin scholar. It continues up through the 1990s. All aspects, personal, political and historical are covered. Thoroughly. Definitely worth four stars.

Through page 182:

The first chapter is the hardest to get through. Don't be deterred. This is an excellent book. You follow four generations of a Vietnamese family, the author's own family. The reader is introduced to the ancient beliefs of the mandarins. Now the date is 1949 and some of the family have joined the Viet Minh. Others support the French colonialists. You start by learning of ancient beliefs and customs. You learn of Vietnam history from the 1800s on. You see how this family lived through the events listed in history books. You get more from this book than you will ever get from a history book since not only do you get the historical and political details but also how these events played out in one family. You are shown a complete life - daily practices, food, housing, customs, religious beliefs and the political and historical events too. This isn't fiction; it is the real thing.

Personally, I side with the Viet Minh. Perhaps the author is biasedd; I do not care. I am being given her point of view. I am in the countryside with the Viet Minh. I am learning how they reasoned, what they ate, where they slept. I am living their life with them. The author's father worked for the French. I have lived with him too and followed how he thought and reasoned too. I understand both sides now.

Read this book if you want to really learn about Vietnamese history and culture.

There is a simple family chart at the beginning, good maps and an index if you need to search after something you have forgotten. And there is a bibliography.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Carol (new)

Carol Great synopsis. This sounds really interesting. We are always looking for titles that help us understand war through first person accounts.


Chrissie Carol, it is so very nice you enjoyed my review - and took the time to tell me. I very highly recommend the book. I want to get the personal side of history. That is why I am crazy about biographies and memoirs.


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