Saigon Stories was a book that was a long time in development. I had been living in Vietnam for several years, could speak Vietnamese, and the bug about writing a book about Vietnam had been seeping into my psyche. Eventually, it became too hard to ignore so I had to do something about it.
My biggest dilemma was that I wanted to write a book about Vietnam, but the things that I knew and could write about had already been done. At best, I could duplicate these subjects and potentially create a new angle, but it would be more or less the same story. I really didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon just for the sake of completing a book about Vietnam.
The epiphany for writing Saigon Stories came from a Vietnamese friend who shared a personal story with me. When he was 18 years old, he had just completed the national university entrance exams and was waiting for his results. It was 1980. The war in Cambodia against the Khmer Rouge was heating up and young Vietnamese men were being drafted en masse to fight a guerilla war in the jungles of Cambodia. Many were not coming home and many others came home with horrific injuries. My friend was scared that he would be next. He felt he had done well on the exams and thought he had passed and thus would be accepted into a university, but he also knew that he could be drafted into the army at a moment’s notice. If he passed the exam, he would get into a university and be excused from military service. The problem was that if the draft notice showed up first it wouldn’t matter how he did on the exam. It was all about which notice arrived first – the results of his exam or his draft notice. It was an amazing story and he shared it with me because he knew me, I knew the subject, I could speak his language, and he trusted me. This same thing happened in many other contexts with many other people during my years in Vietnam.
Saigon Stories is a collection of these kinds of personal experiences. These stories do what most histories and many modern descriptions of Vietnam have not done very well. They bring real human voices and real stories and experiences to what has happened and what is happening in Vietnam.
To do this well, I had to find the right people to tell their story.
I selected five Vietnamese families that fell into one of five family backgrounds. One family [The Returnees] is from the South, but they left the country for the USA in April 1975 only to return nearly 20 years later to re-start their lives in Vietnam. Another family [The Southern Patriots] is from the South, but they moved to the North in 1954 to carry out the country’s nationalist agenda and then returned to the South after Liberation on April 30, 1975. A third family [The Southern Officer] was fully committed to the Government of South Vietnam’s war against North Vietnam and after the war they had to pay a price for this commitment. A fourth family [The Southern Politician] was neither pro-North, pro-South, pro-American, or pro-Viet Cong. Instead they were part of the ‘Third Force’ that protested against the South Vietnamese government, wanted the Americans to leave, did not know who the Viet Cong were, and sought an independent peace. The fifth family [The Northern Migrants] endured three decades of war in the North and then moved to the South in late 1975 to seek prosperity.
These stories will provide the reader with a new means to explain and hopefully understand past and contemporary Vietnam. For those Americans who served in Vietnam with the military or forcefully protested the war from the United States, I hope these Vietnamese family stories will give you a sense of what happened in the country that so impacted so many lives in America. This is a chance to hear from the Vietnamese who had their lives equally or even more heavily impacted than anyone in America. This is what Saigon Stories is all about.
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