Finding the Dragon Lady: The Mystery of Vietnam's Madame Nhu

Finding the Dragon Lady: The Mystery of Vietnam's Madame Nhu

by Monique Brinson Demery

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In November 1963, the president of South Vietnam and his brother were brutally executed in a coup that was sanctioned and supported by the American government. President Kennedy later explained to his close friend Paul "Red" Fay that the reason the United States made the fateful decision to get rid of the Ngos was in no small part because of South Vietnam's first lady, Madame Nhu. "That goddamn bitch," Fay remembers President Kennedy saying, "She's responsible ... that bitch stuck her nose in and boiled up the whole situation down there."

The coup marked the collapse of the Diem government and became the US entry point for a decade-long conflict in Vietnam. Kennedy's death and the atrocities of the ensuing war eclipsed the memory of Madame Nhu — with her daunting mixture of fierceness and beauty. But at the time, to David Halberstam, she was "the beautiful but diabolic sex dictatress," and Malcolm Browne called her "the most dangerous enemy a man can have."

By 1987, the once-glamorous celebrity had retreated into exile and seclusion, and remained there until young American Monique Demery tracked her down in Paris thirty years later. Finding the Dragon Lady is Demery's story of her improbable relationship with Madame Nhu, and — having ultimately been entrusted with Madame Nhu's unpublished memoirs and her diary from the years leading up to the coup — the first full history of the Dragon Lady herself, a woman who was feared and fantasized over in her time, and who singlehandedly frustrated the government of one of the world's superpowers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781610394673
Publisher: PublicAffairs
Publication date: 10/07/2014
Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
Pages: 280
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Monique Brinson Demery took her first trip to Vietnam in 1997 as part of a study abroad program with Hobart and William Smith Colleges. She was the recipient of a US Department of Education grant to attend the Vietnamese Advanced Summer Institute in Hanoi, and in 2003, she received a Masters degree in East Asia Regional Studies from Harvard University. Demery's initial interviews with Madame Nhu in 2005 were the first that she had given to any Westerner in nearly twenty years. Demery lives in Chicago, Illinois.

Read an Excerpt

PARIS, 2005

By the time I started looking for Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu, the former First Lady of South Vietnam had been living in exile for over forty years. In the 1960s, at the height of her fame, the thirty-nine year old Madame Nhu had been named by the New York Times “the most powerful woman in Asia, if not the world.” But it was her reputation as the Dragon Lady that brought her real distinction—when the Buddhist monks were setting themselves on fire in the streets of Saigon, Madame Nhu’s response was unspeakably cruel: “Let them burn and we shall clap our hands,” she said with a smile. “If the Buddhists wish to have another barbecue, I will be glad to supply the gasoline and a match.” The dangerous, dark eyed beauty quickly became a symbol of everything that was wrong with the American involvement in the Vietnam War.

Madame Nhu faded from public view after November of 1963. That was when her husband, Ngo Dinh Nhu, and his brother, South Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem, were killed in a coup that was sanctioned and supported by the government of the United States. As President John F. Kennedy explained to his close friend, Paul "Red” Fay, the reason that the United States had to get rid of the Ngo brothers was in no small part because of Madame Nhu. “That goddamn bitch,” he said to his friend. “She’s responsible...that bitch stuck her nose in and boiled up the whole situation down there.”

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Chapter 1: Paris, 2005
Chapter 2: Murder
Chapter 3: Family and Glory
Chapter 4: Young Lady in Hanoi
Chapter 5: First Phone Call
Chapter 6: The Capture
Chapter 7: Dalat
Chapter 8: Miracle Men
Chapter 9: First Lady
Chapter 10: Tiger Skins
Chapter 11: Press
Chapter 12: Buddhists
Chapter 13: New York, 1963
Chapter 14: Washington, 1963
Chapter 15: November Coup
Chapter 16: The End

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