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Book details
  • Genre:HISTORY
  • SubGenre:Military / Vietnam War
  • Language:English
  • Pages:183
  • eBook ISBN:9781483531397

Saigon Stories

An Oral History of Five Vietnamese Families

by Sam Korsmoe

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A Hanoi school girl gives flowers to Uncle Ho. An 18 year old Mekong Delta farm boy joins the Viet Minh. A Member of Parliament of the South Vietnamese government protests against his own American-backed regime and then negotiates the surrender of his country, yet he knows nothing about the Viet Cong. A South Vietnamese army officer survives the war, re-education camp, and prison to build Vietnam’s largest English language business newspaper. And an entrepreneur who hid insider her father’s coat during the American bombing raids of Hanoi in the early ‘70s spends 30 minutes chatting with Hillary during President Bill Clinton’s State Visit to Vietnam in 2000. These are some of the storytellers in Saigon Stories. This book does what most histories and modern descriptions of Vietnam have not done – it brings real Vietnamese voices and experiences to what has happened and is happening in the country that dented America’s soul. Nearly 40 years after the end of the war, Vietnam remains a war and not a country to many people in America and other Western countries. These stories will change that perception for the better. These oral histories have been captured in audio format. Thanks to the whiz kids of the digital age, these stories can be heard by readers just like the author did when he first recorded the narratives back in 2003 and 2004. In an age when so much political and historical information seems to arrive second hand through cable TV and talk radio, this is a chance to hear about the war in Vietnam from the people who were there in person right up to the very end and beyond. This is rare history akin to having a tape recorder turned on for the final conversations at the Appomattox Courthouse, the Palace of Versailles in Paris, or on board the USS Missouri. Visit for more information, stories, and to listen to the oral history narratives that were recorded for this book.
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. Thanks for checking this book out.
About the author
Sam Korsmoe is a native Montanan who lived and worked in Asia for nearly 20 years (2.5 years in the Philippines as a US Peace Corps Volunteer, 4.5 years in Taiwan as a teacher and teacher trainer, and 11.5 years in Vietnam as a journalist and entrepreneur). He has a B.A. in Political Science from Montana State University and a Master of Arts in International Studies with a focus on Vietnam from the University of Washington. He has studied seven languages and became proficient in three of them (Vietnamese, Mandarin Chinese, and Chavacano). He lived and worked full time in Vietnam from 1993 to 2004. Sam’s Vietnam sojourn began in 1990. It was the official Year of Tourism for the country and also the first true opening up of the country to the outside world, in particular to the Western world. By that time, Vietnam’s primary benefactor and partner, the Soviet Union, had collapsed. Vietnam’s political and trade relationships with what had been called the ‘Eastern Block’ were defunct. The ‘Official Year of Tourism’ was Vietnam’s way of saying, “Hey, we’re open for business. Come on over.” Sam and a friend arrived in March 1990 with bicycles and intentions of cycling from Saigon to Hanoi. While the cycling plans ran into all kinds of roadblocks (travel permits, police visits, open/closed towns, lodging, etc…), Sam developed an affinity for Vietnam and the Vietnamese people. It led to him being one of the very first Americans to ever study at the University of Hanoi in November 1990 where he lived and studied the Vietnamese language and culture until June 1991. After that, he enrolled in a M.A. program at the University of Washington and continued his Vietnamese language studies while pursuing a Masters degree in International Studies. Shortly after graduation in June 1993 and with just $800 in his pocket, Sam moved to Vietnam to live, work, and find out if he learned anything useful from his M.A. program. It was early days for Vietnam’s involvement with other countries. There were hardly any rules and very little information about how to get anything done. Sam wrote about it for several years as a journalist with the Vietnam Economic Times. It was a great gig and great time to be in Vietnam. It often seemed that every living and breathing soul in the country wanted to do nothing but get going, move on, develop something new, and otherwise forget the previous three decades of war and poverty. In fact, it was unusual to find a Vietnamese that wanted to talk about the American War much less having any strong feelings about what happened during the war years. Ten years into his Vietnam life, Sam felt compelled, like many journalists who were there in the early days, to write about his experience and insights into what was a fascinating country. The problem was that the more experienced journalists had already written books, and they were very good books, about contemporary Vietnam and what it was trying to accomplish by opening up to the world. There were also new books about contemporary Vietnamese writers, musicians, artists, etc… Seemingly, there was nothing left to write about which had not already been done or which Sam could not have done better (or even as good). It was during this introspective search that Saigon Stories was created. No one, it seemed, had bothered to ask the Vietnamese what happened during the war years with the French, Americans, Cambodians, or Chinese. When it was written or spoken about, the narratives became highly political and often apologetic or recidivist. What was missing was just plain regular stories about what happened to regular people. The country needed an oral history. Sam had an in. He knew a lot of people, could speak Vietnamese, knew what questions to ask and how to ask them, was good at shutting up to let people talk, and most importantly, he engendered the trust of the Vietnamese he was talking to. The result is Saigon Stories.
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