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Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram Paperback – Illustrated, October 7, 2008
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—The Bloomsbury Review
“Last Night I Dreamed of Peace is a book to be read by all and included in any course on the literature of war.”
“Remarkable. . . . A gift from a heroine who was killed at twenty-seven but whose voice has survived to remind us of the humanity and decency that endure amid—and despite—the horror and chaos of war.”
—Francine Prose, O, The Oprah Magazine
“As much a drama of feelings as a drama of war.”
—Seth Mydans, New York Times
“An illuminating picture of what life was like among the enemy guerrillas, especially in the medical community.”
—The VVA Veteran, official publication of Vietnam Veterans of America
"Idealistic young North Vietnamese doctor describes her labors in makeshift clinics and hidden hospitals during the escalation of the Vietnam War.
Tram did not survive the war. On June 22, 1970, an American soldier shot her in the head while she was walking down a jungle pathway dressed in the conventional black pajamas of her compatriots. Judging by her diary, rescued from the flames by another American soldier and first published in Vietnam in 2005, she died with a firm commitment to the Communist Party, the reunion of Vietnam, her profession and her patients, many of whom she saved in surgeries conducted under the most primitive and dangerous conditions imaginable. In one of her first entries, on April 12, 1968, she characterizes herself as having 'the heart of a lonely girl filled with unanswered hopes and dreams.' This longing and yearning—especially for the lover she rarely sees, a man she names only as 'M' — fills these pages and gives them a poignancy that is at times almost unbearable. Early on, Tram records her concerns about being accepted into the Party. She eventually—and gleefully—is, but one of her last entries reveals the results of an evaluation by her political mentors, who say she must battle her 'bourgeois' tendencies. It’s a laughable adjective to apply to a young woman dedicating her life to the communists’ political and military cause. Tram blasts the despised Americans over and over, calling them 'imperialist,' 'invaders,' 'bloodthirsty.' She notes with outrage the devastation wrought by bombs, artillery and defoliation. Describing her efforts to treat a young man burned by a phosphorous bomb, she writes, 'He looks as if he has been roasted in an oven.'
Urgent, simple prose that pierces the heart."
About the Author
FRANCES FITZGERALD covered the Vietnam War for The New Yorker. Her resulting book, Fire in the Lake, received the Pulitzer Prize.
ANDREW X. PHAM is the author of the award-winning memoir Catfish and Mandala and The Eaves of Heaven.
- Publisher : Crown; Illustrated edition (October 7, 2008)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 272 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0307347389
- ISBN-13 : 978-0307347381
- Item Weight : 8.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.18 x 0.58 x 7.95 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #584,918 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Thuy came from an intellectual family in Hanoi. After they lost their wealth in the revolution against the French, the family lived in a single-room cottage in the country, but eventually returned to Hanoi. Her father was a surgeon, her mother a pharmacist. Thuy attended an elite secondary school and was trained as a surgeon at Hanoi University Medical College. She had been selected for specialized training in surgical ophthalmology, but chose instead to take her medical skills to the South. From her diary, it appears that she was motivated by both her sense of patriotic duty, and a desire to be near her adolescent sweetheart, “M.”
Thuy began keeping a diary when she left Hanoi in December 1966. She was sent to a local hospital in Quang Ngai. The surviving portion of the diary does not indicate why Thuy was sent there rather than to a larger hospital further from the danger zone, with better equipment and more physicians. Quang Ngai province had a tradition of rebellion; neither the French, nor the Saigon government, nor the Americans had established control over it, but thousands of its residents had been relocated, most of its villages had been demolished, and much of the province had been designated as a free fire zone.
Diary entries from December 1966 through April 1968 have been lost, including whatever Thuy might have written about her trek down the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the TET offensive or the My Lai massacre. As she explained, “ . . . this diary is not only for my private life. It must also record the lives of my people and their innumerable sufferings, these folks of steel from their Southern land.” The diary contains allusions to Vietnamese and Soviet writers, and also to characters in Les Miserables.
Thuy’s principal duties related to surgery, confronting such conditions as broken bones, burns, internal hemorrhages appendicitis, and abdominal wounds. She probably had to work with a very limited range of surgical instruments and medicines. Operating facilities were primitive—one day she wrote, “Huge shrapnel shatters a tree in the middle of the operating room.” Apart from surgical work, Thuy was occasionally responsible for relocating the clinic and its patients, transporting supplies, and training field medical staff. Hospital staff also provided psychological support for patients. Thuy develops affectionate feelings for certain patients and colleagues, but she asserts that such feelings are “completely different from the romantic sensation between boys and girls.” Her feelings about “M” are different: “Why can everyone else love me so, but the man who has my faithful heart cannot?” Although Thuy often mentions “M,” the full nature of their relationship remains a mystery.
Thuy very much wanted to be admitted to the Communist Party; but for many months she was excluded. “I have come to the Party with a devoted and open heart, but it seems the Party has not treated me in kind.” “No matter how much effort you have shown through your achievements, as a bourgeoisie, you are still below a person of the labor class who has only just begun to comprehend Party ideals.” She was finally admitted to the party in the fall of 1968, and admonished herself to “keep safe the high values of a Party member,” and “Hold firmly the spirit of a communist.” Like others, she received an official evaluation from the party. Thanks to Ho Chi Minh, these evaluations included positive as well as negative observations. Regarding Thuy, officials commented, “persevering spirit, fearlessness in the face of danger, willingness to sacrifice,” “amiable behavior, liked by people,” but listed several weaknesses, including, “still has bourgeois attitude.” Thuy characterized Americans as, ”bandits” and “devils,” alluded to the President as “mad dog Nixon,” and wrote, “there is real life only when the American bandits are no longer here.”
The clinics seem to have been very well camouflaged. One was set up in a cave within half a mile of an American firebase. Thuy gives several accounts of American soldiers searching within a few yards of the underground shelter in which she was hiding. In less stressful times, the clinic staff relaxed, reading mail and listening to music on the radio. (Thuy liked classical music—she played violin and guitar.) But eventually each clinic came under attack and had to be relocated together with its patients (some on stretchers).
Thuy repeatedly expressed her willingness to die for the cause: “I have the feeling that one day I will fall for the future of our people. . . . I am proud to offer my entire life to the country.” On June 20, 1970, she wrote, “I am no longer a child. . . . I have passed trials of peril, but somehow, at this moment, I yearn deeply for Mom’s caring hand.” Two days later, she was killed. In her possession was the diary, a photograph of an army captain (presumably “M”) and poems to him. U.S. troops knew about the hospital, and may have known about its young female doctor. There have been accounts of helicopter loudspeakers urging Thuy to surrender; but the diary provides no evidence of this. That she was found with a bullet through her forehead may suggest that she was the victim of an execution rather than a gunfight.
That the diary is so well known today is due to a series of unlikely events. North Vietnamese authorities generally discouraged keeping of diaries. The U.S. intelligence officer who should have destroyed Thuy’s diary chose instead to keep it. And, for a long time, Thuy’s mother did not want to publish the diary. But once it was released, it caused a sensation in Viet Nam. Hundreds of thousands copies of the published version were sold; and it was translated into various languages. A television documentary was produced, and a Doc Phu hospital was named for her.
The book’s introduction includes Frances FitzGerald’s capsule biography of Thuy and description of how the diary was preserved and returned to Vietnam, as well as Andrew Pham’s explanation of how he translated it from Vietnamese. There are a map, 8 pages of black & white photographs, and footnotes providing information about Thuy’s family and friends, and life in Hanoi, as well as various places, organizations, aircraft, and weapons. Thuy’s medical journal has apparently survived (it is cited in the annotation), and might have been used to provide more details about Thuy’s surgical work and the hospitals where it occurred—their numbers, locations, sizes, equipment, staffing, and medicines.
Dear Andrew, I usually would not thank an author, even less a translator or interpreter like you, for an enriching work. But after reading your prologue, and knowing that translators make great financial sacrifice on literary projects like this, thank you is the right reaction for what you did in giving Thuy a voice the world otherwise would not have heard. As you mentioned, some may criticize you for not giving Thuy's words an exact translation. Those critics perhaps do not fully appreciate the difference between a translator and an interpreter. I do. Thuy's words would have been heard in translation, but not the voice from her heart. That could only have been the province of an interpreter, for her diary came from the heart. That is where her voice lay buried until you and your dad (who helped you interpret), rescued her from the silence. As a guy who spends a lot of time in Vietnam, you know that ghosts will not be silenced there. That is a land where ghosts are supposed to commuicate to the living. You and your dad made that possible.
I read the diary, and am reading your other works, partly so I can do a credible job in understanding what the US, and Vietnam veterans, did there. I moved to Saigon a year ago to get that understanding about something my own army platoon did. It's about a different dead girl, someone still without a voice whom we killed on one of those trails up in the central highlands in June 1970. As I got near the end of your translation, I had increasing anxiety that Thuy was who we killed there that month. I was relieved when I realized it was not Thuy. I was relieved that Andrew X. Pham was not the one interpreting the charges against me. Different dead girl, different killers, so my immunity remains intact. I still have the luxury of hearing my own confession in my words.
Thuy's story, and your interpretation of her diary, will influence me to be less self-aquiting in my own understandings. Her story would help any veteran from any war anywhere, move toward understanding, reconciliation and even forgiveness.