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Over the Moat: Love Among the Ruins of Imperial Vietnam
     

Over the Moat: Love Among the Ruins of Imperial Vietnam

by James Sullivan
 

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In the fall of 1992, James Sullivan travels to Vietnam to bicycle from Saigon to Hanoi. He has just finished graduate school and has an assignment to write a magazine story about a country that is still subject to a U.S. trade embargo. But in Hue, the old imperial capital of Vietnam, the planned three-month bike trip takes a detour. Here, in a city spliced by the

Overview

In the fall of 1992, James Sullivan travels to Vietnam to bicycle from Saigon to Hanoi. He has just finished graduate school and has an assignment to write a magazine story about a country that is still subject to a U.S. trade embargo. But in Hue, the old imperial capital of Vietnam, the planned three-month bike trip takes a detour. Here, in a city spliced by the famed Perfume River and filled with French baroque villas, he finds himself bicycling over a moat to visit a beautiful shop girl who lives amid the ruins of the last imperial dynasty of Vietnam. She falls for him, but there's a catch. Several other suitors are vying for her hand, and one of them is an official with the city's police force. Over the Moat is the story of Sullivan's efforts to win Thuy's favor while immersing himself in Vietnamese culture, of kindly insinuating himself in Thuy's colorful and warm family, and of learning how to create a common language based on love and understanding.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Cultures clash, but love conquers, with some fascinating twists and plenty of intimate details.” —Kirkus Reviews

Over the Moat tells a tale we sorely need to hear at this moment in history...Elegantly written, redolent of our universal humanity, this is an important book.” —Robert Olen Butler, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain

“What a wonderful premise for a novel. But Over the Moat isn't fiction: it's a true story. Sullivan's tenacity, passion, luck, and the purity of his love come through in his prose, and he has succeeded admirably both in the telling of this story and in the living of it.” —Abraham Verghese, author of My Own Country

Over the Moat takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of the country and the culture, never letting us forget that, as Americans, we're just visitors.” —Stewart O'Nan, author of The Names of the Dead and editor of The Vietnam Reader

“James Sullivan has written a brilliant, intimate account of desperation. Cast within the layered textures of contemporary Vietnam, this is a vivid book with irresistible underpinnings: desire and discovery.” —Lewis Robinson, author of Officer Friendly

“Here is a book that carries us on a thoughtful journey along the crowded boulevards of dreams and the unlit paths of love and human understanding, in a distant place where we turn a corner and catch an unexpected glimpse of ourselves. It is a gift.” —Don J. Synder, author of The Cliff Walk

Over the Moat is a fine piece of writing. Here is a story about modern Vietnam. Here is the much celebrated city of Hue. Here are two lovers trying their best despite language and culture to merely and genuinely be in love. What could be simpler?” —Larry Heinemann, author of the National Book Award-winning Paco's Story

author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Good Scent Robert Olen Butler
Over the Moat tells a tale we sorely need to hear at this moment in history...Elegantly written, redolent of our universal humanity, this is an important book.
author of The Names of the Dead and editor of The Stewart O'Nan
Over the Moat takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of the country and the culture, never letting us forget that, as Americans, we're just visitors.
author of the National Book Award-winning Paco's Larry Heinemann
Over the Moat is a fine piece of writing. Here is a story about modern Vietnam. Here is the much celebrated city of Hue. Here are two lovers trying their best despite language and culture to merely and genuinely be in love. What could be simpler?
Publishers Weekly
In 1992, fresh out of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Sullivan and a classmate are hired by Bicycling magazine to report on their trek from Saigon to Hanoi. The plan mutates into a book-length memoir- cum-love story when 27-year-old Sullivan, from Massachusetts, meets and falls for a Vietnamese shop girl in Hue. The eponymous moat refers to one he must cross on his bike every time he visits Thuy, who lives with her family within the walls of an old imperial citadel. Sullivan extends his trip and then returns for another year to court her-no easy task, given the horde of other suitors, cultural differences and some distrust of Americans. Being an outsider has its benefits, however; as the other admirers keep their visits brief, he writes, "I pretended not to know. I stayed and stayed. I bid [the others] farewell... waving while they smoldered into the dark, handicapped by custom, undone by the ignorance of a guy who wore a Day-Glo yellow rain jacket and shorts in a country where only children wore shorts." Sullivan's style is somewhat unpolished and disjointed, detracting from the otherwise engaging tale. Perhaps a few more years (or a couple more trips abroad) would have produced deeper insights than "People had been coming East for answers for centuries, and in some way, I believed that I'd come East to answer questions I hadn't ever asked.... Whenever I tried to focus on the answers, as on a ship on the horizon, I couldn't quite convince myself that they were really there. But if I looked askance, there was enough resolution for certainty." (Jan. 1) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
While bicycling through Vietnam and writing about his experiences for a magazine, Sullivan (of Irish New Englander descent) meets Thuy, the daughter of a shopkeeper in Hue. He becomes her English-language tutor and thus begins a long, involved courtship. This slow-starting, meandering book records their struggles with two cultures over the next few years, bouncing among Vietnam, Bangkok, and Quincy, MA. Their blooming relationship runs up against a number of obstacles, from getting to know each other's culture to the interference of a rival local suitor (also a key government official) to a bout with hepatitis to Sullivan's gaining permission to stay in the country and marry. The book provides a narrow if revealing account of Vietnam just before diplomatic relations with the United States were restored, but essentially it is the personal story of two people from different and sometimes conflicting societies struggling to find common ground. They do finally get married and now live in Maine. That may be the subject of another book. For larger libraries with an interest in cross-cultural personal relationships.-Harold M. Otness, formerly of Southern Oregon Univ. Lib., Ashland Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A recounting of the author's courtship of his wife-to-be in the ancient Vietnamese city of Hue. In the fall of 1992, shortly after graduating from the Iowa Writer's Workshop, Sullivan went to Vietnam with an assignment from Bicycling magazine to write about biking from Saigon to Hanoi. He was looking for local color to flesh out the piece when he first encountered Thuy in her exotic native city. She wanted to learn English; his interest was caught and held from his initial vision of her traditionally dressed in a graceful ao dai. Since Sullivan is the kind of writer who spends a lot of time in his own head, readers are privy to every twist and turn as he accepts, ponders, rejects, and finally embraces the notion that boy has met girl and destiny waits. It was clear from the outset that their relationship would be complicated. Thuy's family had very traditional values and beliefs-her mother, for instance, insisted that she tightly braid her long hair before going out in the evening so that "ghosts will not fly in there"-and she respected them. The US trade embargo on the reunited country's communist government worked against Jim in subtle ways. It was a 19th-century courtship; Thuy's initial refusal to even shake his hand put physical contact well back on the calendar. When the first kiss finally arrived, Sullivan writes, "A tiny gasp escaped between us. It could have been her; it could have been me." But there were other persistent gentlemen callers, and one of them, a Hue police officer assigned to monitor foreign travelers, took Jim's success personally. The ensuing complications afforded the author a Kiplingesque take on the community of marginally depraved Western expats going to seedin Bangkok, where he waited in agony for bribes and paperwork to interact. Cultures clash, but love conquers, with some fascinating twists and plenty of intimate details.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312422370
Publisher:
Picador
Publication date:
01/01/2004
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
842,525
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.82(d)

Meet the Author


James Sullivan was born and raised in Quincy, Massachusetts, and attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop. His journalism has appeared in a number of national magazines. He lives with his wife Thuy and their two children in Scarborough, Maine.

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