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The Life We Were Given: Operation Babylift, International Adoption, and the Children of War in Vietnam [Kindle Edition]

Dana Sachs
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In April 1975, just before the fall of Saigon, the U.S. government launched "Operation Babylift," a highly publicized plan to evacuate nearly three thousand displaced Vietnamese children and place them with adoptive families overseas. Chaotic from start to finish, the mission gripped the world-with a traumatic plane crash, international media snapping pictures of bewildered children traveling to their new homes, and families clamoring to adopt the waifs.

Often presented as a great humanitarian effort, Operation Babylift provided an opportunity for national catharsis following the trauma of the American experience in Vietnam. Now, thirty-five years after the war ended, Dana Sachs examines this unprecedented event more carefully, revealing how a single public-policy gesture irrevocably altered thousands of lives, not always for the better. Though most of the children were orphans, many were not, and the rescue offered no possibility for families to later reunite.

With sensitivity and balance, Sachs deepens her account by including multiple perspectives: birth mothers making the wrenching decision to relinquish their children; orphanage workers, military personnel, and doctors trying to "save" them; politicians and judges attempting to untangle the controversies; adoptive families waiting anxiously for their new sons and daughters; and the children themselves, struggling to understand. In particular, the book follows one such child, Anh Hansen, who left Vietnam through Operation Babylift and, decades later, returned to reunite with her birth mother. Through Anh's story, and those of many others, The Life We Were Given will inspire impassioned discussion and spur dialogue on the human cost of war, international adoption and aid efforts, and U.S. involvement in Vietnam.


Editorial Reviews

Review

Deeply compelling and deftly researched, Dana Sachs's The Life We Were Given vividly documents this controversial mass evacuation while trailing the heartbreaking narratives of the children-from village life to orphanage to hastily arranged flights to the United States and into the homes of waiting American adoptive parents. The Life We Were Given is a powerful exploration of the questions that haunt everyone involved in adoption.—Meredith Hall, author of Without A Map

"The saddest story in the whole awful sweep of the war in Vietnam had nothing to do with soldiers or ideology and has never been fully told—possibly because no one could bear to. Thankfully, Dana Sachs fills that void with The Life We Were Given, one of the bravest and most wrenching books I have read about the war. All the victims and heroes of the Orphan Airlift come unforgettably to life in this beautiful book, and I will not soon forget them, or it."—Tom Bissell, author of The Father of All Things

"The Life We Were Given</i< is a work of great compassion and scope that gives voice to the tragedy and salvation of thousands of Vietnamese orphans. Dana Sachs has compiled an impressive collection of personal stories and presented them with concise historical background to give this subject the depth it so rightly deserves. An illuminating book worth reading."—Andrew X. Pham, author of Catfish and Mandala and The Eaves of Heaven

"With its clear and compelling truths about war, children, fear, and hope, The Life We Were Given becomes one of our very best and most important books about America's involvement with the people of Vietnam. And it's so much more. Exquisitely written, full of breathtaking suspense, this book will become a classic, a must-read."—Clyde Edgerton, author of Lunch at the Piccadilly and The Bible Salesman

"This gripping account of Operation Babylift allows the voices of those directly affected by the experience to speak out. . . . Unmatched in its breadth of perspective and depth of insight . . . Sachs has broken new ground in our continued understanding and insight into how powerful Operation Babylift was on our national consciousness and the many lives it impacted."—Bert Ballard, PhD, Operation Babylift adoptee (April 1975), international adoption researcher, adoptee activist

About the Author

Dana Sachs has written about Vietnam for twenty years. The author of The House on Dream Street: Memoir of an American Woman in Vietnam and the novel If You Lived Here, and coauthor of Two Cakes Fit for a King: Folktales from Vietnam, she teaches at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and lives in North Carolina.


Product Details

  • File Size: 2205 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (April 1, 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003D3MGBC
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #828,332 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book. April 1, 2010
Format:Hardcover
"The Life We Were Given" is a beautifully and sensitively written account of "Operation Babylift," the harrowing evacuation of an uncertain number of Vietnamese orphans and non-orphan children who were boarded in orphanages because of wartime conditions. The title comes from a statement of a Vietnamese-American man who had been adopted via Operation Babylift; he is reflecting on his and other adoptee's need to accept and come to terms with the life he and other adoptees have lived because of their evacuation from their homeland. But, the book does not just give the varying viewpoints of some adoptees--also providing the nuanced perspectives of the birth parents, adoptive parents, orphanage and adoption agency operators and their staffs, members of the U.S. military, doctors and volunteers who helped in the days following the frantic arrival in the U.S. of flights of Vietnamese babies and children, South Vienamese locals, and a North Vietnamese communist who took over management of many South Vietnamese orphanages after the "fall of Saigon." Taken together, their reflections give broad scope to Dana Sachs's persevering effort to answer how and why Operation Babylift happened as it did, and what it means. The recollections of those in South Vietnam also give a fascinating and moving description of the frantic final weeks before the "Fall of Saigon." The almost daily descriptions of the plight, and the fears, of those in South Vietnam as they listened to the bombs and the fighting approach and as they heard the stories of the refugees who flooded Saigon while both the military and the rumors closed in. Read more ›
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet April 28, 2010
Format:Hardcover
I'd rank this book right up there with Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried." So many brilliant moments and vignettes - I can't decide which is my favorite. The scariest one was when the medical team boarded the plane in advance of President Ford and the description of the conditions onboard. Dr. Stalcup and his medical team are heroes. Not the only heroes in this story, hardly at all, but what a job! Sachs's relationship with her interpreter Thuy was also very telling, reminding us that after all, we can be close with folks from another culture, another world, the other side. I understand the author's reluctance to reduce Vietnam to another story about the war and only about the war, since there is so much more to Vietnam, but I am grateful that she carved out this small piece of that war and wrote about it so brilliantly. Years ago, before I went to Cambodia to cover the last stages of the civil war there, I spent a lot of time reading about the region -- including Vietnam and Laos, too -- reading about the wars, the endless wars, and looking at all the photography that came out of that place - so much of it was about the innocents, the very young and the very old. I realized that the real story of war has little to do with generals or troop movements, strategy or weaponry. Sachs captures that brilliantly in this book. The real victims are innocence and the innocent. Desperate people doing amazing things to rescue a homeless and hungry child. Lieberman and Taylor, Stalcup and countless others named and unnamed in this brilliant book remind us so clearly who it is that suffers most. Such a subtle work of writing, it evokes the depth of the tragic American experience in Vietnam -- as well as the horrific experience of the Vietnamese themselves in that bewildering and savage war. Read more ›
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The Life We Were Given June 21, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
History:

During the Vietnamese War, American soldiers average tour of duty was about one year. The American soldiers fathered and left behind many Amerasian children. The Vietnamese are a fairly racist society and they were prejudiced against the Amerasian children, especially the Amerasian children of African American descent. Many of these Amerasian children ended up being abandoned by their mothers or orphaned. There were a lot of orphans in Vietnam during this time, both Amerasian and Vietnamese because of the war. There were several international organizations that came into Vietnam to take care of the orphans. These organizations arranged international adoptions for the orphans that they were caring for both in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe.

When it became apparent that the North Vietnamese were going to take over South Vietnam, many people, both South Vietnamese and international, were afraid that the conquering communists would kill the Amerasian children and punish their families. Because of this an effort was made to get as many Amerasian children out of Vietnam as possible. This effort became known as Operation Babylift. Operation Babylift only had time to evacuate around 3300 children. Most of the children were orphaned Amerasian children but there were some who did have living mothers. These mothers turned their children over to Operation Babylift because they feared that the communists would harm or kill their Amerasian children. These mothers often did not realize that they were turning their children over to this organization for foreign adoption. Some of these mothers were able to leave Vietnam and immigrate to the United States. When they arrived they found that their children had been adopted.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fresh understanding for those a part of this amazing project.
Since I have a friend who was a part of "Operaton Babylift", I found it fascinating, heart warming
and something that may bring new understanding to some who... Read more
Published 8 months ago by patnpups
5.0 out of 5 stars Really Behind the Scenes
Behind every piece of history there are bits and pieces that if not researched would never see the light of day. Read more
Published 12 months ago by grampsonamission
4.0 out of 5 stars Very imformative.
I was a Red Cross volunteer during this time and picked up a 4 year old boy at SF Airport. The bus then took all of the volunteers and children to the Presidio in SF for care. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Virginia Petersen
1.0 out of 5 stars Not an objective look at Operation Babylift
Disturbing read in that the author takes every opportunity to show America in an ugly light. Mistakes were made, no doubt about it, with this operation, but it was with the best... Read more
Published on July 31, 2011 by BKD
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
This is a very good book and the person on the cover lives over in Superior, WI. That's where she went to college and met her husband.
Published on June 4, 2010 by Virginia May
5.0 out of 5 stars An eye opening and thought provoking read, highly recommended
To let your child live thousands of miles from you for a chance at a better life was a sacrifice many Vietnamese parents made. Read more
Published on May 18, 2010 by Midwest Book Review
5.0 out of 5 stars An Unanswered Question
What a wonderful read! In "The Life We Were Given" Ms Sachs brings back from history the heartwarming and heartwrenching stories from the Vietnam Era. Read more
Published on April 29, 2010 by P. G. Abraham
5.0 out of 5 stars Memories of a time past . . ."The Life We Were Given"
I came of age in the Vietnam Era and watched my loves and friends disappear for years . . .physically and mentally, to a country they had scarcely heard of before the "Conflict". Read more
Published on April 5, 2010 by Julie
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book.
"The Life We Were Given" is a beautifully and sensitively written account of "Operation Babylift," the harrowing evacuation of an uncertain number of Vietnamese orphans and... Read more
Published on April 1, 2010
5.0 out of 5 stars Good book
As Kurt Vonnegut wrote in review of a book by Vance Bourjaily, Dana Sachs
is a friend of mine. I would plug any book she wrote but I wouldn't cross
my heart and swear... Read more
Published on March 21, 2010 by Dan Duffy
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