18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A family history that also tells the history of Vietnam.
The Sacred Willow is an excellent family biography and historical analysis of the origins of, and events surrounding, the Vietnam War. If you have shied away from histories of Vietnam as you are not interested in military history, I would highly recommend this work. This book is a social, rather than a military, history. Tracing the history of Vietnam from the era...
Published on October 26, 1999 by Sara
60 of 65 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Vast fascinating saga, but limited outlook
This book is indeed what most critics say that it is: an ambitious, sprawling saga, paralleling the life and history of one family with the history of Vietnam in the last 130 years. And it does make fascinating reading. However, one other critic rightly made the point that this history is limited to the upper-middle-class, with very little on the rest - the farmers,...
Published on September 17, 2000
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60 of 65 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Vast fascinating saga, but limited outlook,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family (Hardcover)This book is indeed what most critics say that it is: an ambitious, sprawling saga, paralleling the life and history of one family with the history of Vietnam in the last 130 years. And it does make fascinating reading. However, one other critic rightly made the point that this history is limited to the upper-middle-class, with very little on the rest - the farmers, the urban working class, the fighting soldiers, the intelligentsia. To which I will add: the view Mai Elliott gives of the sweeping events her family lived through was in fact rather comprehensive as long as it took place in the North, where she was born. Once the family moved South to Saigon, they pretty much kept to themselves and were out of the loop as far as decision-making was concerned (whereas ther father had been Governor of Haiphong and right there in the thick of things in the North). Being myself a Southerner Vietnamese, I do admit that, in general, the refugees from the North were not made warmly welcome. But some did reach out and eventually made friends, which the Duong family does not seem to have done. When they were still high officials in the North, the Duongs were influential and knew almost every aspect of what was going on. Once in the South, they were pretty much out of the loop, and Mai falls back on sweeping generalizations based on prejudices and hearsay, like "the Southern landowners were absently landlords who lived it up in Saigon, leaving their lands to caretakers". Being myself from a landowning family, I can vouch that that was far from true. Same thing about the South Vietnamese armed forces and the contempt in which they were supposedly held by their American allies. Would Tiger Woods' father have named him after a South Vietnamese Ranger if he despised him and his companions as cowards? She also fails to note that, very often, a South Vietnamese military operation would fail because Americans would not listen to their SVN counterparts, thinking they knew better. And Mai was so busy interviewing VC prisoners of war and trying to understand them that she never took the time to find out what the South Vietnamese working class, farmers, and fighting men, were like. Or why they stuck with a "corrupt" and "tyrannical" government, not to mention nasty imperialist Americans without rising up and going to the other side. Her account of the fall of Saigon and its aftermath is told solely from the point of view of her relatives who stayed there, or other former Northern refugees, and from a strictly "bleeding-heart liberal" perspective. General Loan is stigmatized when he shot a VC in public (he had heard that very day that the VCs had massacred a whole bunch of his relatives), but widespread cases of the so-called Liberation Army summarily shooting thieves in the street is related without so much as a metaphorically raised eybrow. There is no mention whatsoever of the South Vietnamese underground resistance that went on for over 10 years after Saigon fell, and only a grudging, one-sentence acknowledgement of "acts of heroism" by the South Vietnamese army and people. Her extensive bibliography is limited to North Vietnamese and American books, magazines and papers when she could have gained a different insight from books or articles by South Vietnamese or French writers and journalists, among others "The Vietnamese Gulag" by a South Vietnamese who stayed on after the "liberation" to help rebuild the country. I still recommend the book as an interesting work, giving a perspective that Americans in general have not seen - the "Vietnam War" viewed from the point of view of a Vietnamese family. But for that, Le Ly Hayslip's "When Heaven and Earth Changed Places" was closer to the people - and Mai Elliott's point of view is only that of a small part of Vietnam. But do read it anyway. You will still gain facts and insights you did not get before.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A family history that also tells the history of Vietnam.,
This review is from: The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family (Hardcover)The Sacred Willow is an excellent family biography and historical analysis of the origins of, and events surrounding, the Vietnam War. If you have shied away from histories of Vietnam as you are not interested in military history, I would highly recommend this work. This book is a social, rather than a military, history. Tracing the history of Vietnam from the era of the mandarins, through the French colonialization, through the communist insurgency, to the fall of Saigon and beyond, the author writes a history of her own family and in so doing, beautifully and subtly details the complexities and nuances of the origins of the Vietnam conflict and America's participation therein. The author's use of spare and straightforward prose enables the reader to look beyond the sheer horror of the war and its aftermath and reach a level of understanding as to how this tragic conflict could have occured.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great way to learn about Vietnam,
This review is from: The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family (Hardcover)I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn about Vietnam. Well-written, the book is a history of how one family lived in Vietnam over several generations. The reader will learn the conflicts (politcal, cultural, and military) that each generation faced and how they responded to them to survive.
What is also interesting in this fine book, is that Mai Elliot showed how important it was to the Vietnamese that the Japanese (for a time) ruled the French in Vietnam during World War II. It showed that the French could be defeated and raised the morale of those Vietnamese who wanted to drive the French out of Vietnam. Not many other books highlight this particular role of the Japanese on Vietnamese history in the second half of the 20th Century.
Overall, this book will give beginning and advanced students of Vietnam both a relatively unbiased and informative view of Vietnam over the years. Furthermore, parts of the book are an adventure and demonstrate the hardships that many in Vietnam had to endure for so many years regardless of social status and education. Mai Elliot has made a solid contribution to the literature on Vietnam. One of the best Vietnam books out there.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Personal Account of the Impact of history,
This review is from: The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family (Paperback)Duong Van Mai Elliott has given the world as intimate an account of the entire breath of Viet Namese history as you'll ever encounter. It is remarkable how close to the ground her family has always been throughout her country's efforts to break the bonds of colonialism, regardless of the oppressor. She casts history accurately, relates its impact on her forebears and brings the whole discussion front and center in the conflicts that arise among siblings as they come to terms with some who embrace Ho Chi Minh, others who embrace US personnel.
Mai's own story is full of that heart-rending division as she comes to term with her husband's family, who while very supportive of their daughter-in-law, really are not aware of the enormous drama taking place in the souls of this family. It is not like the Viet Namese to be outwardly emotional, and so their resolve to be brave in the face of often crushing personal sacrifice leaves you stunned.
One of the things I got from this book was that the US never stood a chance. The Us never understood what the central issue was for the Viet Namese people, inspite of having liberated themselves from similar colonialism in their own history. Replacing one colonialist for another, be they kinder or crueler, was not the point: they were still colonialists, and too often the US opted for choices based on ideologies instead of on the human factor, a point the Viet Minh knew was more powerful than bullets.
The war decimated Viet Namese as well as Americans, a point too often overlooked in the rush to build monuments to people who had no business there to begin with. The killing fields that would follow in the wake of the US departure would exact a toll on the humanity of a remarkable people. Time would show that the ideologues of Uncle Ho were little better than oppressors from afar. Mai saw it up close and personal.
The familial rifts remained. Still there is so much healing needed. This book will not resolve anything for the reader. Imstead, it shows that history happens to real families. Holocausts impact real people. The numbers and the monuments don't tell the story at all.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A marvelous, important work on Vietnam.,
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Captivating book,
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Recommended by a Vietnamese friend; did not disappoint,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family (Paperback)I did not realize the importance of reading a book written from a Vietnamese viewpoint until I began reading other books on Vietnam written from Western viewpoints. Certain events, such as the lasting meaning of the Tet Offensive of 1968 and Vietnam's engagement of the Khmer Rouge are shown in a completely different light in "Sacred Willow".
In addition, Elliot's coverage of an unwieldly time span is impressively complete, even though the ealiest events comprise only a few chapters of this 500-page tome.
Elliot keeps her references to her experiences in America to the bare minimum necessary to flesh out the story, which I found appropriate in a book about Vietnam (not about the Vietnamese-American immigrant experience). There are several memoirs out there dealing with Vietnam, but none are as clearly focused on Vietnam, or have near as broad a depth as this book. I am utterly satisfied and excited to have this one in my personal library.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars great read,
This review is from: The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family (Paperback)This is a great story of Vietnam and its evolution as a state. I found the author's detail and historical knowledge very rewarding. Anyone interested in the people culture of indochina should read this book.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE SACRED WILLOW,
I flew helicopters in the Mekong Delta in 1966-67 at Vinh Long, with the Outlaws of the 175th Aviation Company--a very lucky assignment. I grew familiar with the terrain this VN author describes and the torment of her citizenry in this conflict. Every vet and family member of a Vietnam vet should have this book in their library; hurry up and buy it before it is past!! My book of the same title as my unit covers our flying experiences as youthful US Army Aviators.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poor Little Rich Girl,
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Mrs. Elliott is also the author of the magisterial RAND IN SOUTHEAST ASIA. She was a RAND employee in the 1960s working as an interrogator and translator in the Vietcong Motivation and Morale Study commissioned by the Department of Defense. This effort produced hundreds of in-depth interviews with Viet Cong and North Vietnamese POWs and defectors which today are a priceless archive of the ordinary communist fighter's life in the jungle. When Lee Lanning and I wrote INSIDE THE VC AND THE NVA we relied heavily on these interviews some of which were conducted by Mrs. Elliott herself. We used other RAND reports, particularly "Documents of an Elite Viet Cong Delta Unit: The Demolition Platoon of the 514th Battalion," authored by Mrs. Elliott and her husband, David.
If only we'd paid closer attention to what the Elliotts and their colleagues were finding out about our communist enemy in Vietnam we might've gained valuable insights. And, as she very perceptively points out in this book, if we'd only done a similar study on our South Vietnamese ally we might've taken a different course in Vietnam than the one that led to disaster and the vast diaspora Mrs. Elliott describes in this book.
Mrs. Elliott was only a child when the first Indochina War ended. She grew up in a privileged environment, went to the best schools, was educated at Georgetown at the American taxpayer's expense, married an American intellectual, and was safe here in the States when Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese juggernaut. She never knew the ordinary people of Vietnam, the soldiers, the bar girls, the prostitutes, the street vendors, the street urchins, the rural villagers, not like the average GI and if he was an infantryman, he knew the Vietnamese countryside better than this author ever could, better, in fact, than many of his communist enemies fresh off the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Of her siblings none were killed in the war.
But when the Duongs fled their country in 1975, those who didn't stay behind to experience concentration camps or victory in the ranks of the VC and the NVA, they came with nothing except a will to survive and provide for their children. A hundred-year membership in the mandarinate was worthless to these new immigrants. We should never forget it's people like them who've made this country what it is.
Yes, Mrs. Elliott reveals in this book that she shared the anti-war views of the American intelligentsia which at the time outraged me and if I'd have met her back then I don't think I'd have liked her -- I'd have considered her a communist stooge. But she was right that the way we & our South Vietnamese ally were pursuring that war would end in failure and while she had close relatives who were devoted communists, she's not one herself, she's Vietnamese and that is a BIG difference.
My son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren have all been back to Vietnam. It's not the same country it was in 1975. Mrs. Elliott doesn't beat you over the head with this fact, but it's clear and one might wonder who really won that war. My barber, a Vietnamese immigrant, wasn't even born when I first went there & he was but a baby when I left. That, Mrs. Elliott tells us in this book, is how we come to terms with the past, by living through and beyond it. Her family did it and so can the rest of us.
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The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family by Duong Van Mai Elliott (Paperback - April 20, 2000)