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Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram Paperback – October 7, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 60 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1970, while sifting through war documents in Vietnam, Fred Whitehurst, an American lawyer serving with a military intelligence dispatch, found a diary no bigger than a pack of cigarettes, its pages handsewn together. Written between 1968 and '70 by Tram, a young, passionate doctor who served on the front lines, it chronicled the strife she witnessed until the day she was shot by American soldiers earlier that year at age 27. Whitehurst, who was greatly moved by the diary and smuggled it out of the country, returned it to Thuy's family in 2005; soon after, it was published as a book in Vietnam, selling nearly half a million copies within a year and a half. The diary is valuable for the perspective it offers on war—Thuy is not obsessed with military maneuvers but rather the damage, both physical and emotional, that the war is inflicting on her country. Thuy also speaks poignantly about her patients and the compassion she feels for them. Unfortunately, the writing, composed largely of breathless questions and exclamations, is monotonous at times, somewhat diminishing the book's power. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Now available for the first time in English – faithfully translated by Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnamese American journalist Pham – [LAST NIGHT I DREAMED OF PEACE] is witness to the unjust horrors and countless tragedies of war, a reminder made more pertinent every day.”
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.”
Chicago Tribune

“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."
Kirkus Reviews

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (October 7, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307347389
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307347381
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #416,703 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Alan Quale on March 21, 2009
Format: Paperback
From the moment I saw the cover on this book, I was mesmerized by the rice patties in the foreground, the mountains in the background and the smiling young woman in the cone-shaped hat. The lush green landscape looked eerily familiar. So did the young woman.

"Last Night I dreamed of Peace" is the diary of Dang Thuy Tram, a 25-year-old North Vietnamese doctor who goes to South Vietnam during the war to serve in jungle clinics near Duc Pho. Her diary chronicles her life from 1968 to 1970, which was one of the bloodiest periods in the Vietnam War.

Thuy writes of her heart-wrenching days in the clinics where she is sometimes forced to operate on patients without anesthesia. To add to her despair, her clinics were often bombed and strafed by American aircraft and sometimes attacked and destroyed by ground forces. If American troops were seen approaching the clinic, Thuy, her staff and patients fled into the jungle or climbed up into the mountains. Sometimes, when there was no time to flee, they crawled into hidden underground tunnels where they anxiously waited as American soldiers searched the jungle above them.

I was captivated by Thuy's diary because I also saw the horrors of this war, but from the "other side." I was a U.S. Army supply sergeant for a light infantry company, also stationed in Duc Pho, at the same time as Thuy. It's quite possible that some of her patients were wounded by soldiers from my company.

As I read Thuy's diary, I was also struck by her sentiments, which were so similar my own. Enemies in war often share a common likeness, and this becomes evident in Thuy's diary. She longs for the comforts and safety of her home in North Vietnam. She misses her Mom and Dad, her siblings and her friends.
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Format: Hardcover
"Last night I dreamed that Peace was established," Dang Thuy Tram confided to her diary. "Oh, the dream of Peace and Independence has burned in the hearts of thirty million people for so long. For Peace and Independence, we have sacrificed everything. So many people have volunteered to sacrifice their whole lives for these two words: Independence and Liberty. I, too, have sacrificed my life for that grandiose fulfillment." Thuy never saw the fulfillment of her dream. She was only twenty-seven when on June 22, 1970 American soldiers put a bullet through her forehead.

Dang Thuy Tram (b. November 26, 1942) was a surgeon fresh out of medical school who headed a field hospital in the remote, mountain jungles of Vietnam. She operated without anesthesia, rebuilt her clinic every time it was bombed, tended to the peasants whose villages had been burned and bull-dozed, hid in her underground shelter, and suffered the atrocities of war -- kids stepping on land mines, helicopter gunships in the middle of the night, forests stained yellow by toxic defoliants, napalm bombs, amputees, and patients like Khanh, a twenty-year old victim of a phosphorous bomb whose charred body, burned to a crisp, still smoldered with smoke an hour after it was admitted to her clinic.

The sparse possessions found with Thuy's body included some medicines, a rice ledger, a Sony radio, and this diary. When the American soldier Fred Whitehurst found the diary during the mop-up, he violated military regulations, kept the diary, and took it home with him in 1972 after three tours of duty in Vietnam. In April 2005 he was able to deliver the diary to Thuy's eighty-one-year old mother and three sisters, who published it in Hanoi on July 18, 2005.
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Format: Hardcover
...to use Blasé Pascal's phrase, relating to his rhetorical question concerning his right to kill another man, just because he lived on that opposite bank. Dang Thuy Tram's diaries are an important addition to that small group of Vietnamese books concerning the American War which have appeared in English, and include Bao Ninh's "The Sorrow of War," and Duong Thu Huong's "Novel Without a Name."

Alain-Fournier was another great writer whose life was cut far too short by war during the very early months of World War I. Both he and Thuy died at the same age, 27. Alain-Fournier's literary reputation was established prior to his death, Thuy's has finally come, posthumously. The strength of her diary is the immediacy and authenticity of the comments. She was quite optimistic at the beginning, but with the mounting casualties in her unit, and the relentless bombardment from the Americans, she turns more pessimistic, and foreshadows her own death. For those portions I would have given her a 5-star rating, but the frequent interjection of that leaden communist rhetoric, and the vague treatment of the personnel struggles within her unit, and the party, I decided to give only a 4-star rating, preferring both of the books above. Also, there were the issues that were only briefly discussed, and were of essential interest - her medical work. There was never an adequate description of her clinic, and the availability of medical supplies. Malaria, and what the GI's called "jungle rot," (fungal infections) were unmentioned yet must have been a significant portion of her work. She mentions in passing the poison that was Agent Orange, but again gives no real description of the effect it had on her unit.
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