The Sacred Willow

The Sacred Willow : Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family


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Growing up in Hanoi, Haiphong, and Saigon, Mai Elliott loved listening to the stories told by her parents and other relatives about their parents and grandparents. She found these tales fascinating - some funny, some tragic. She knew one day she would tell their stories and she has in her book The Sacred Willow. In The Sacred Willow Mai tells the story of her family over four generations, from the 19th century to the present. She takes us back to the vanished world where her great-grandfather, Duong Lam, rose from poverty to become a mandarin at the imperial court. She tells of childhood hours spent in her grandmother's sil shop - and of hiding while French troops torched her village, watching blossoms from the trees torn by fire flutter "like hundreds of butterflies" overhead. She reveals the agonizing choices that split Vietnamese families, while her father, loyal to his mandarin heritage, served the French colonial regime, her eldest sister joined the Communist guerillas and vanished for years into the jungle. Finally, Mai traces her family's journey through some of the most harrowing events of recent times - the fall of Saigon, the exodus of the boat people, and the re-education camps endured by those who were left behind. Writing with insight and compassion, Mai Elliott weaves a narrative with the richness and colour of a historical novel. Haunting, heartbreaking and inspiring, The Sacred Willow wo;; fprever cjamge pir imderstamdomg pf Vietnam and our role in it.

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Product details

  • Paperback | 544 pages
  • 154.94 x 233.68 x 45.72mm | 771.1g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Revised ed.
  • Ill.3M.
  • 0195137876
  • 9780195137873
  • 121,592

About Duong Van Mai Elliott

Duong Van Mai Elliott was born and raised in Vietnam and attended Georgetown University on a scholarship. She lived in Vietnam again from 1963 to 1968 and worked for the Rand Corporation interviewing Viet Cong prisoners of war. She returned to the U.S. in 1968 and now lives in California.

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Review quote

An extraordinary narrative S Dean Powell, Western Mail 10/03/01

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Review Text

A sprawling attempt to chronicle a large Vietnamese family buffeted by French colonization, WWII, and the French and American wars. Elliott was born into an upper-middle-class family in northern Vietnam. Her long book tells her family's story in detail, beginning with her great-grandfather, a mandarin who died in 1920. Elliott's goal is to weave the many stories over four generations into a tale that reflects, "in miniature, the history of Vietnam in the modern era." After five years of researching and interviewing, Elliott has come up with a book that partially reaches her lofty goal. That's because the book tells the story of only one portion of Vietnamese society and sheds precious little light on the country's large peasant class, the urban working class, or the intelligentsia. Elliott tells her own family's story well and in great detail. She begins with her formidable great-grandfather Duong Lam and then chronicles the next three generations of the Duong clan. Most of the males held high-level government jobs or did well in business. That includes Elliott's father, who was mayor of Haiphong during the last years of French role. Most of the author's family fled to Saigon when the Vietnamese Communists took over North Vietnam in 1946, and most left Saigon in April 1975 just before the Communist takeover there. Elliott, who studied foreign affairs at Georgetown University in the early 1960s, married an American and has lived in this country since 1968. Her writing comes alive most effectively in the first-person sections in which she describes growing up in Hanoi and Saigon and coming of age in Washington. The least successful parts of the book are the facile, generalized attempts at relating Vietnamese historical events. A good look at Vietnam's recent history through the lives of a middle-class family. (Kirkus Reviews)

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