Vietnamerica: The War Comes Home

Vietnamerica: The War Comes Home

by Thomas A. Bass

Editorial Reviews

Michael E. Ross

They are the product of a war America has tried to forget. In Korea they're called panjant, in Thailand, farang. In Vietnam they are con lai-- "mixed blood" -- and bui doi, literally "the dust of life." They are Amerasians, children of American soldiers and Vietnamese mothers, the most enduring human legacy of the horror of the Vietnam War.

In his new book Vietnamerica, the American journalist Thomas Bass has written a moving story of the Amerasians and their battle for identity against indifferent bureaucracies here and abroad. Vietnamerica is also a book about the erosion of memory and resolve, the intractable traditions that made these children strangers at home, and the pain of their (too-infrequent) encounters with their fathers in America, a country dealing with its own racial intolerance.

The book's historical overview traces the origins of the dilemma to before the Vietnam War, back to the turn of the century. One surprising estimate Bass relates is that perhaps as many as two million Amerasians have been born since American soldiers first landed in Asia, during the Spanish-American War. But the book's most affecting content concerns people in despair. Consider Huynh Thi Huong, a woman who came within a hair's breadth of leaving Vietnam to seek her father in America, only to have her hopes dashed by interminable red tape; or Phuong Thao, a Vietnamese actress who, despite a meaningful career, must play the bureaucratic game, and who asks Bass: "Will you help me find my father? There is a wound in the heart of my mother that I want to help her heal."

In the book's title itself, Bass smartly conflates the intertwining destinies of America and Vietnam, destinies that still link the countries a generation after the war. With incisive wit, compassion and formidable intelligence, Bass has shown how, until the patriation issue is settled, the Vietnam War is ever with us, an apocalypse for now and always. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Freelance writer Bass (Reinventing the Future) spent a decade investigating the tragic story of children fathered and abandoned by American servicemen in Vietnam. Outcasts in Vietnam's family-oriented society, regarded as an embarrassment by the U.S., the Amerasians were not authorized to emigrate to their fathers' country until 1987. Bass weaves interviews with U.S. and Vietnamese officials, social workers and, above all, the children themselves into a sorry tale of racism and fraud, corruption and inefficiency that continues to keep these by-now young adults outcasts in a world that often regards their very existence as a mistake. Although Bass admits that not all the stories he recounts may be true in every detail, Vietnamerica compellingly depicts a pain behind the stories that is all too real and all too enduring. This book is a poignant, effective reminder that America's longest war did not end when the shooting stopped.
Library Journal
Left behind when South Vietnam fell in 1975, the children of Vietnamese women and American servicemen remain a deeply disturbing symbol of the racism rooted within both traditions. The Vietnamese term for these young people literally translates as "dust of life," a term which Bass (Reinventing the Future, LJ 11/1/93) demonstrates is apt. The United States has consistently mismanaged both the question of repatriation and the process of resettlement for those Amerasians who have managed to make it to the "Big PX." Bass offers anecdotal accounts of several Amerasians as they move from their surreal existence in Vietnam to life in a resettlement center in grimy and decaying Utica, New York. The firsthand descriptions are tragic and compelling and lack the happy ending so common to the hardship stories of other immigrants. Gripping as the individual biographies are, Bass's undisciplined writing detracts from his message. Certainly not the final word on the subject, this work will serve as a useful starting point.-John R. Vallely, Siena Coll. Lib., Loudonville, N.Y.

Product Details

Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.74(w) x 8.91(h) x 0.78(d)

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