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Finding the Dragon Lady: The Mystery of Vietnam's Madame Nhu Hardcover – September 24, 2013
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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 Based on Madame Nhu’s unpublished memoirs and on personal interviews with the woman known as the Dragon Lady, the book restores Madame Nhu to her proper place in history, as a ruthless and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
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
Illuminating shed[s] light on one of the country's most controversial figures.”
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.”
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 sourcesincluding interviews with Madame NhuDemery's book is now the standard for understanding the cultural politics of South Vietnam's first family.”
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Top Customer Reviews
I was 12-years-old living in Saigon when the Ngo family was in power, and I was there when they were overthrown November 1, 1963. It was a pleasure to read this memoir and biography. It is Monique’s memoir during a period of years where she worked with the elusive Madame Nhu as she crafted the lady’s biography.
Monique combines intense research and interviews with the words and writings of Tran Le Xuan who grew up to become Madame Nhu, one of the most powerful women in Viet Nam.
Author Monique Demery describes M. Nhu:
[I]t was Madame Nhu's reputation as the Dragon Lady that brought her real distinction. When Buddhist monks were setting themselves on fire in the streets of Saigon, Madame Nhu's response was unspeakably cruel: "Let them burn and we shall clap our hands," she had said with a smile. "If the Buddhists wish to have another barbecue, I will be glad to supply the gasoline and a match." The dangerous, dark-eyed beauty quickly became a symbol of everything wrong with American involvement in the Vietnam War. [ Demery, Monique Brinson (2013-09-24). Finding the Dragon Lady: The Mystery of Vietnam's Madame Nhu (Kindle Locations 151-154). PublicAffairs. Kindle Edition.]
This book will bring back memories (if you're old enough to have any) of Vietnam during the years leading to what the Vietnamese call "The American War." There are any number of tidbits. One of my favorites is the recounting of the visit by VP LBJ to the Presidential Palace in Saigon (tiger skins are involved).
Remember, if you will, that the Vietnam War was essentially "won" by about 1970 - the VC were neutralized and almost all of RVN was safe and secure - but the war was soon "lost" in spineless Washington. You know the sad story. We (the US) didn't finish what we started, but that debate will never be resolved.
Suffice it to say that "Finding the Dragon Lady" is (1) a fine refresher course about a particular era of Vietnamese/American history and (2) an engrossing story about Tran Thi Le Xuan (Madame Nhu's childhood name).
If you like history, you will like this book. 5 stars.