Where the Ashes Are: The Odyssey of a Vietnamese Family

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In 1968 Nguyen Qui Duc was nine years old, his father was a high-ranking civil servant in the South Vietnamese government, and his mother was a school principal. Then the Viet Cong launched their Tet offensive, and the Nguyen family's comfortable life was destroyed. Taken prisoner and marched up the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the author's father witnessed secret Viet Cong hideouts, B-52 bombing raids, and the death of an American POW. North Viet Nam's highest-ranking civilian prisoner, he eventually spent twelve years in captivity, composing poems in his head to keep himself sane. Nguyen Qui Duc escaped from Sai Gon as North Vietnamese tanks approached in 1975. He came of age as an American teenager, going to school dances and working at Roy Rogers, yet yearning for the homeland and parents he had to leave behind. Meanwhile, the author's mother stayed in Viet Nam to look after her mentally-ill daughter. No longer allowed to teach school, she sold noodles on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. She endured poverty and "reeducation" until her husband was freed and the Nguyens could reunite. Intertwining these three stories, Where the Ashes Are shows us the Viet Nam war through a child's eyes, privation after a Communist takeover, teeming refugee camps, and the struggle of new immigrants. The author returns to Viet Nam as an American reporter, providing a detailed portrait of the nation today as it again opens to the West. Where the Ashes Are closes with Nguyen Qui Duc's thoughts on feeling pulled between his adopted country and his homeland. It is a rare and moving story about where families look for home in a world of revolution.

Nguyen Qui Duc was 10 years old when his father was captured by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. He was 17 when he escaped from Saigon, leaving his mother behind. In this stirring memoir, he tells how the Nguyen family survived prison, death, and life under Communism to reunite in America.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The Nguyens were privileged Vietnamese: the author's great grandfather was a regent during the reigns of three kings, his grandfather was a mandarin and his U.S.-educated father was a civilian deputy to the military governor, based in Da Nang. Loyal to South Vietnam, the author's father was seized in 1973 by the Viet Cong and imprisoned for 16 years. Although the then 10-year-old author continued to attend school amidst the terrors and disorders of the war, the family's life was so altered that his mother, a schoolteacher, took to selling noodles in the streets. Their large extended family remained supportive, however. At 18, the author joined his brother and sister in the U.S. where, eventually, he became the manager of a San Francisco radio station and a reporter for National Public Radio. He relates in disciplined, moving prose his family's travails during the war, his father's imprisonment and release, his mother's courage, the ambience of the country he still misses and the differences between life in the U.S. and Vietnam. In 1989, while visiting Vietnam to film a PBS documentary on Viet Cong vets, the author located the ashes of a sister who died during the war and brought them to the country that is now his family's home. (Jan.)
Library Journal
These two historical autobiographies describe the plight of the Vietnamese people. Both authors trace their flight from South Vietnam and subsequent lives as immigrants in the United States. Duc, a reporter, recounts his escape from South Vietnam and his family's efforts to reunite in the United States following the Vietnam War. He writes about his father's imprisonment and his mother's struggle to survive Vietnam's unsettling times as a street noodle vendor. He poignantly relates the frustration of being in exile. Although he realizes that he must accept living in a foreign country, Duc bitterly regrets the loss of his homeland. Huynh comes from a family of 17 children. In 1977 he escaped to Thailand and emigrated to the United States. After working in several fast food restaurants, he earned an MFA from Brown University. This book portrays Huynh's valiant struggle to escape Vietnam. One of the most poetic passages in the book describes how his parents shared a pair of silk trousers; whenever guests arrived, his father would use the pants while the mother had to hide in the kitchen. The strengths of these two books lie in their eloquent yet tragically matter-of-fact portrayal of courageous perseverance. Recommended for most libraries.-- Vicki L. Toy Smith, Univ. of Nevada, Reno
Western American Literature
Nguyen Qui Duc presents a classic story of human endurance with the sage of his family's tribulations during the Vietnam War and their postwar transformation into American overseas Vietnamese.—Sophie Quinn-Judge, Western American Literature

— Sophie Quinn-Judge

Western American Literature - Sophie Quinn-Judge

"Nguyen Qui Duc presents a classic story of human endurance with the sage of his family's tribulations during the Vietnam War and their postwar transformation into American overseas Vietnamese."—Sophie Quinn-Judge, Western American Literature
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780201632026
  • Publisher: Addison-Wesley
  • Publication date: 1/15/1994
  • Pages: 265
  • Product dimensions: 6.41 (w) x 9.49 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Meet the Author

Nguyen Qui Duc is a journalist, translator, and writer whose National Public Radio series on Vietnam won the Citation of Excellence from the Overseas Press Club of America. In 2006 he received the Distinguished Service Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his contributions to journalism.
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