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Finding the Dragon Lady: The Mystery of Vietnam's Madame Nhu Hardcover – September 24, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

She was an enigma, extremely powerful in her heyday but almost forgotten since then: Madame Nhu, wife to the brother of the president of South Vietnam and in practical terms the first lady, a woman small of stature but hugely influential, whose participation in events preceding the 1963 coup that saw her own husband and brother-in-law executed contributed directly to the escalation of the war in Vietnam and to the radical alteration of the American and Vietnamese political and social landscapes. Based on Madame Nhu’s unpublished memoirs and on personal interviews with the woman known as the Dragon Lady, the book restores Madame Nhu to her proper place in history, as a ruthless and brilliant woman without whose manipulations the war in Vietnam might have turned out very differently. Madame Nhu, who died in 2011, spent more than 40 years (roughly the second half of her life) living far out of the public eye; this frequently surprising book brings its subject back from exile. --David Pitt

Review

Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Journal
“A fascinating portrait of this polarizing figure …[a] fair-minded and readable look at Madame Nhu and her prominent role in the early years of the Vietnam War…This book performs an especially valuable service to readers who want to understand why the U.S. sometimes stumbles in foreign affairs….The book benefits from a firm understanding of Vietnamese traditions. …In the end, Demery admits that she ultimately became Madame Nhu's "friend," an admission that makes the reader admire the biographer even more for being so clear-eyed about her subject's flaws.”

San Francisco Chronicle
“Demery succeeds in painting such a nuanced picture of this powerful woman that by the time we reach Madame Nhu's 1963 U.S. press tour, we can sympathize with her desire to defend her country… ‘Finding the Dragon Lady’ is a brave book. Demery realized that ‘I had been handed the chance to breathe some life into the remote, exotic place in history to which she had been assigned,’ and she took that opportunity to push beyond the conventional understanding of this painful and polarizing era. It's a testament to her deep knowledge of Vietnamese and American culture that she leaves us wondering what might have been.”

Kirkus Reviews
“Engagingly provocative…Smart and well-researched, Demery’s biography offers insight into both an intriguing figure and the complicated historical moment with which she became eternally identified. A welcome addition to the literature on Vietnam.”

Booklist online
“The book restores Madame Nhu to her proper place in history, as a ruthless and brilliant woman without whose manipulations the war in Vietnam might have turned out very differently… this frequently surprising book brings its subject back from exile.”

Daily Beast
“Deeply intriguing...one hell of a story.”

Alexia Nader, Kirkus Reviews
“Finding the Dragon Lady stands out from most biographies of political leaders: It emphasizes, rather than conceals, the competing narratives of an unreliable and manipulative subject…It was ultimately Demery’s candid way of writing and structuring her biography that won her the battle with her subject. Her book reveals the many masks Madame Nhu wore to guard herself against the public (and even the author), and gives stark glimpses of the woman underneath.”

Publishers Weekly
“Illuminating… shed[s] light on one of the country’s most controversial figures.”

Elizabeth Becker, author of When the War Was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge
“Even those familiar with the history of Vietnam will be astonished at the bizarre case of Madame Nhu. Monique Demery tracks down the original Vietnamese 'Dragon Lady' who confesses to weaknesses and heartbreak but refuses to take responsibility for her role in the war that ruined so many lives in her country and ours.”

Robert K. Brigham, Shirley Ecker Boskey Professor of History and International Relations at Vassar College
Finding the Dragon Lady is a truly monumental achievement. Demery has vividly captured the life and times of one of Vietnam’s most intriguing figures. Beautifully told, and exhaustively researched in French, Vietnamese, and American sources—including interviews with Madame Nhu—Demery’s book is now the standard for understanding the cultural politics of South Vietnam’s first family.”

Craig R. Whitney, Vietnam War correspondent and author of Living with Guns
“In the early days of America’s engagement in Vietnam, no one played a greater role than Madame Nhu in shaping the Saigon regime’s anti-Communist fervor.  But who was the Dragon Lady, really?  This superb portrait reveals her self-doubts, conveys the fierce persona she developed to overcome them, and explains how her zealotry doomed the regime and condemned her to a life in exile.”

David Lamb, author, Vietnam, Now: A Reporter Returns
“Here is the last untold story of the Vietnam war, the riveting, intimate and ultimately tragic profile of Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu, South Vietnam’s unofficial First Lady whose political power and ruthlessness earned her the nickname The Dragon Lady. In her life, which ended in exile and isolation in 2011, are the seeds of America’s ill-fated military involvement in Vietnam. Monique Demery spent ten years tracking down the elusive Dragon Lady. Her diligence has produced a laudatory book that is at once scholarly and as readable as a good mystery.”

Morley Safer, correspondent for 60 Minutes, CBS News
“It was said of Lord Byron that he was “mad, bad and dangerous to know.” Not a bad appellation or epitaph for Tran Le Xuan, the infamous Madam Nhu. Monique Brinson Demery has deftly captured the life and time of the woman who defied her own government, the communist forces of North Vietnam and the Americans.”

Philip Caputo, author of A Rumor of War and the forthcoming The Longest Road
“Monique Demery's account of her search for one of the pivotal figures in the Vietnam War, the beautiful and dangerous Madame Nhu, is a riveting detective story and a fascniating portrait of a woman far more complicated than her media image as The Dragon Lady.”

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs (September 24, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1610392817
  • ISBN-13: 978-1610392815
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.8 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #575,002 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Cheryl M-M on October 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover
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 him and the country. She was known for her lack of diplomacy. She refused to stay quiet and called a duck a duck if indeed it quacked and walked like said duck. She put many policies into place that took women back 20 steps into the last century.
Her so called morality laws outlawed abortion,divorce, adultery, contraceptives, dance halls, beauty pageants and she was often called out for being a hypocrite.
Madame Nhu was adamant and very vocal about the fact that the Americans brought about the downfall of her family and in doing so also the country.
"My family has been treacherously killed with either official or unofficial blessing of the American government, I can predict to you now that the story is only at its beginning."
Of course that statement, which implies better the devil you know than the devil you don't, was to be eerily predictive. The US thought they could control the outcome in North Vietnam via South Vietnam by removing Diệm. Instead the removal of Diệm and Nhu was the start of even greater instability in South Vietnam.
Demery makes an interesting point about the influence certain foreign press members had in South Vietnam.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Chris on September 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I had thought everything that could be written on the Vietnam War had been written. The existence of this book proves me wrong. While it is not a landmark work like Karnow's Vietnam or Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest, it is nonetheless original, interesting, and worth reading for those interested in Vietnam.
I was curious if this book would get me to sympathize with Madame Nhu. The answer is not really. As a girl and a middle child at that, Madame Nhu did not receive the best child care, despite being born into an upper class family. Her parents dumped her on the grandparents, the grandparents pawned her off on the servants, and the servants dumped little Madame Nhu on the gardeners who were convicts forced to do yard work on the family estate. It's worth pausing and imagining leaving your children with people forced to do community service projects on the highway. When she was a toddler, she nearly died from an infection that was a direct result of neglect. So Madame Nhu had a rough childhood. But most people with bad formative years don't encourage monks to self-immolate themselves or watch happily while those same monks clubbed in the head by soldiers.
Madame Nhu married well (by well I mean prestige and connections; personally her husband was cold towards her and fooled around). Her husband began as a librarian, but went on to found the Personalist Labor Party. This party would be the base of support for his brother Diem, who would go on to become Prime Minister and later President. Among her husbands other siblings was the first Vietnamese Archbishop and a provincial chief.
The author's thesis is that Madame Nhu, the Dragon Lady, was more than a beautiful and cruel cartoon character. Demery lays out important instances where she helped prop up the regime.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Amy K. on October 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After having just returned from a trip to Vietnam I was completely interested in learning more about this country. Monique Demery gave me just what I needed. It was a captivating book that helped me understand the Vietnam War better (I was a born during it's infancy) and helped me understand all that Vietnam had been through during the last 100+ years. Even though I had many guides on our stay throughout Vietnam, not one had mentioned the Diem Regime, the Nhu's and especially Madame Nhu. I now can see how uninformed I was about the history over there. My father is a professor who teaches in many cities in Vietnam and he found this book incredibly fascinating as well. It is really, really well written and a page turner -I could not put it down! I would love to see more work by M. Demery.
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There has been another book based on the memoir of Madame Nhu, published by a French publisher, an esoteric group with a division specializing Asia and a reputation for publishing works that cannot be published elsewhere. The French publication is edited by the surviving children of Madame Nhu. Hence, the authenticity of Ms. Demery's book must be reevaluated. I am quoting the announcement of the French publication below:

"Annonce de la parution des mémoires de Mme Nhu sous la forme d'un recueil édité par ses enfants Ngô-Ðình Quynh et Ngô-Ðình Lê Quyên (1959-2012). Ci-après présentation de l'éditeur.
À travers l'histoire de la « République du Viêt-Nam » au temps des Ngô-Ðình, ses bâtisseurs, et les événements meurtriers qui ont tenté de la détruire, c'est toute la vitalité de l'âme Viêt qui est en devenir comme l'exprime Madame Ngô-Ðình Nhu dans les mémoires inspirés qu'elle a dédiés à son pays. Ses enfants, Ngô-Ðình Quynh et Ngô-Ðình Lê Quyên, grâce à leurs archives familiales, nous permettent de comprendre la voie qu'ont voulu tracer les frères Ngô-Ðình pour que leur pays vive selon ses propres valeurs. Le cinquantième anniversaire de leur assassinat survenu le 2 novembre 1963 offre à l'Occident l'opportunité d'une large méditation sur les erreurs du passé."
SOURCE: Harmattan_LaRepubliqueDuVietNamEtLesNgoDinh
There are many cultural errors in Ms. Emery's book, perhaps recognized only by native Vietnamese. I won't bother with details on this limited channel. Apparently, Ms.
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