Read The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family by Duong Van Mai Elliott Online


A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Duong Van Mai Elliott's The Sacred Willow illuminates recent Vietnamese history by weaving together the stories of the lives of four generations of her family. Beginning with her great-grandfather, who rose from rural poverty to become an influential landowner, and continuing to the present, Mai Elliott traces her family's journey throughA finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Duong Van Mai Elliott's The Sacred Willow illuminates recent Vietnamese history by weaving together the stories of the lives of four generations of her family. Beginning with her great-grandfather, who rose from rural poverty to become an influential landowner, and continuing to the present, Mai Elliott traces her family's journey through an era of tumultuous change. She tells us of childhood hours in her grandmother's silk shop, and of hiding while French troops torched her village, watching while blossoms torn by fire from the trees flutter "like hundreds of butterflies" overhead. She makes clear the agonizing choices that split Vietnamese families: her eldest sister left her staunchly anti-communist home to join the Viet Minh, and spent months sleeping in jungle camps with her infant son, fearing air raids by day and tigers by night. And she follows several family members through the last, desperate hours of the fall of Saigon-including one nephew who tried to escape by grabbing the skid of a departing American helicopter. Based on family papers, dozens of interviews, and a wealth of other research, this is not only a memorable family saga but a record of how the Vietnamese themselves have experienced their times....

Title : The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780195124347
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 544 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family Reviews

  • Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
    2019-05-09 16:25

    This book would make fantastic supplemental reading for a course on Vietnamese history. The author chronicles more than a hundred years of the country’s recent past, using her family’s experiences as a focal point. It begins in the mid 19th century, when several of her male ancestors served as mandarins in a society that revered educational attainments; moves on to French colonialism and Japanese occupation during WWII; then to the Viet Minh struggle for independence, which doesn’t seem to truly divide the family despite their winding up on all sides of the conflict – the author’s father serves as a high-ranking official under the French while her oldest sister and brother-in-law join the rebels in the mountains, and her uncle, a wealthy landowner, puts his resources at the Viet Minh’s disposal. Then it traces the American intervention and the dramatic days of the communists’ takeover of South Vietnam, before ending with Vietnam’s struggles as an independent country.It’s a lot to pack into 475 pages, and the author balances the story of her family with a broader historical perspective. The history appears well-researched, and based on her bibliography, draws heavily on Vietnamese as well as English-language sources. It also seems balanced; at times, when family members’ paths during the war diverge sharply, we get separate chapters covering the same events from different perspectives, and the author doesn’t seem to be advocating for either one over the other. Though the author’s parents threw in their lot with the French and later South Vietnam, she – like many Vietnamese – seems to respect the communists’ commitment, and while the American intervention was a short-term boon for middle-class families like hers, she ultimately seems to conclude that the communist victory was both inevitable and not as awful as propaganda had led the South Vietnamese to expect.The book’s biggest weakness is that it is rather dry, much more focused on facts than building a dramatic narrative. Though it is in part a memoir, we learn little about the author herself; she tends to relate the facts of a situation with perhaps a bald statement of her feelings, but without developing any of the emotional detail that might allow readers to experience the story along with her. There are exceptions, though; her account of the dramatic last days before the fall of Saigon (through the eyes of several family members) is downright gripping.Overall, I’d recommend this book, but more for educational purposes than entertainment. It is a strong answer to the rest of English-language literature about Vietnam, which tends to be from an American perspective and focused exclusively on the war.

  • Chrissie
    2019-05-20 17:16

    On completion:ETA: After reading this book you must read about the Quiet War in Laos and the Hmong who fought it: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two CulturesDo you really want to understand the Vietnam War? This book is about a Vietnamese family that lived through it. What is special about this book is that the author saw all sides of the war. In her own family some were on the side of the Viet Minh and others supported the French and then the Americans. Never did any of the family stop being family to each other. The author was in fact educated in the US, married an American and worked for the Rand Corporation, employed to study the motives of the Viet Minh. Through this book you learn of all parts of the war. All sides are fairly represented and rather than being observed, lived. There is much history documented, so the book is not for those who want a quick read. After reading this book I have a much better understanding of the war. As I stated below it starts with life of the author(s great grandfather, a Mandarin scholar. It continues up through the 1990s. All aspects, personal, political and historical are covered. Thoroughly. Definitely worth four stars. Through page 182:The first chapter is the hardest to get through. Don't be deterred. This is an excellent book. You follow four generations of a Vietnamese family, the author's own family. The reader is introduced to the ancient beliefs of the mandarins. Now the date is 1949 and some of the family have joined the Viet Minh. Others support the French colonialists. You start by learning of ancient beliefs and customs. You learn of Vietnam history from the 1800s on. You see how this family lived through the events listed in history books. You get more from this book than you will ever get from a history book since not only do you get the historical and political details but also how these events played out in one family. You are shown a complete life - daily practices, food, housing, customs, religious beliefs and the political and historical events too. This isn't fiction; it is the real thing. Personally, I side with the Viet Minh. Perhaps the author is biasedd; I do not care. I am being given her point of view. I am in the countryside with the Viet Minh. I am learning how they reasoned, what they ate, where they slept. I am living their life with them. The author's father worked for the French. I have lived with him too and followed how he thought and reasoned too. I understand both sides now. Read this book if you want to really learn about Vietnamese history and culture.There is a simple family chart at the beginning, good maps and an index if you need to search after something you have forgotten. And there is a bibliography.

  • Annette
    2019-05-19 12:11

    one of my favorite books of the last 5 IS long..but its worth it. A fascinating portrait of 4 generations of a Vietnamese family that stretches from the traditional "mandarin" culture of northern Vietnam, thourgh French occupation, the Vietnamese war, the aftermath and to life in the US. It deals with Vietnam War from many sides (as her family was divided physically and ideologically by the war. Mai Elliott writes well, lived much of the story, and conducted extensive interviews in later years to flesh out the stories of all her relatives who were separated by time, distance, and sometime ideology over the years. It is one of the clearest explanation of what happened in Vietnam (north and south) during the years leading up to and during the war. Told on a personal level it still illuminates the experiences of the country as a whole. I highly recommend this book. Although it is a BIG book...I read it in less than a week because I couldn't put it down. I was a teenager during the last stages of the war and remember only the "headlines" and photographic portraits...this book has greatly helped illuminate what was really going on.

  • Ken Emery
    2019-05-25 15:25

    I initially decided to read this book before a trip to Vietnam. I struggled with it a bit and found it slow in places, but I did learn quite a bit about Vietnam's history and people from reading The Sacred Willow. I especially enjoyed the last few chapter, perhaps because I read them after my trip to Vietnam and had more context or maybe it it was just a period I was a bit more familiar with than the earlier time periods portrayed in the book. Learning about the history of the country through the history of a family was interesting and gave me a new perspective on Vietnam and its people.

  • Liz
    2019-05-17 09:31

    At times it can be a bit overbearing and in the beginning it is interesting to learn about the Mandarin system it is a bit dry. However, it certainly builds up when the narrator and the author starts to talk about her own life and the experiences she and her family go through. It is quite a magnum opus of a work, and very disheartening at times. However, the end could be considered happy since family does stick together though thick and thin. I enjoyed reading this for my senior seminar, but the beginning does drag on for a bit.

  • Erin
    2019-05-07 09:29

    I learned more about Vietnam in the first 200 pages of this book than I ever learned in AP History. And PS, the Vietnamese are not hung up on the American war the way Americans are. They won, they moved on, they went through 2 other wars since then.

  • Heather
    2019-05-09 17:09

    Super-slow read, super fascinating.

  • Amanda
    2019-05-24 17:14

    Very slow and too much information. She would have been better off splitting this into two books - one of her family history and one of her own experiences.

  • Nigel Kotani
    2019-05-07 11:18

    This is the story of four generations of the author's Vietnamese family but, let's be straight about this, what's interesting about it to most people is the Vietnam War. I would never have picked up a similar book about, say, four generations of a Burmese family.I enjoyed the book and was never bored with it, but became somewhat frustrated with it towards the end when she described the fall of Saigon to the Viet Cong. My frustration stemmed from the fact that I found this section of the book utterly gripping, deserving of five stars and quite the best description I've ever read about what happened in those last few days and hours.What this section made me feel about the book was that she'd made a mistake by going into the level of detail she did about the earlier generations of her family. Whilst those elements were interesting (though not riveting) in their own right and useful in putting into their historical context the growth of the Viet Minh, the expulsion of the French, the growth of the Viet Cong and the war against the US, they didn't warrant the quantity of writing within the book that she gave them. They were simply her personal family history, and writing about them in such detail and at such length bordered on the self-indulgent, particularly in contrast to what came later in the book. Those earlier sections also suffered from their distance, with the stories being told third or fourth hand, as opposed to the post WWII elements which were generally told to her first hand. I also feel that she would have done better allowing the people within the book to tell their stories in their own voices in the style of someone like Svetlana Alexievich than, as she did about people whom she clearly interviewed, "Giu felt sad to hear....". A good book, though frustrating in that she had enough material to have written a great one had she been more ruthless in what she chose to leave out, what she chose to focus on and the way some of the material was presented.

  • itpdx
    2019-05-20 14:17

    This is an amazing family and modern history of Viet Nam. From the author's great grandfather, an imperial mandarin, to her nieces, nephews and cousins in the Vietnamese diaspora and currently in Viet Nam, she gives us a view of events from her family's experiences. Mai Elliott had a sister and brother-in-law who worked in the north's country-side as agriculture experts under the Viet Minh and a brother who spent four years in re-education camps after reunification. Her father was a governor in the Hanoi and Haiphong under the French and the Japanese. She tells their history and experiences well and with sympathy and gives us a taste of the Vietnamese culture. Thank you, Ms. Elliott, for this book.

  • RAW
    2019-05-07 15:31

    I knew very little about Vietnam and the conflict in the country. Over 100 years of a single family portrayed thru the eyes of a surviving child. Family split by war and ideology yet once peace finally comes to the country able to reconnect and look forward in their respective lives. Liked knowing what occurred in the country from a perspective of someone who lived in the country and had a rich family history of government involvement. Large family so many aspects of political spectrum were explored. I did not like how she worshipped her ancestors and wished that this was not part of who she is.

  • Patty
    2019-04-25 11:14

    ”As my plane took off one fall morning from Hanoi. I looked out of my window and felt a sense of peace and closure. …I had seen Vietnam, the land of two million war dead, become once again the land of the living. And I was taking back with me not the deafening explosions of weapons, but the gentle sound of the monsoon rain.”It has been six years since I went to Vietnam to build a house with Habitat for Humanity. Vietnam is not a country that I had planned to visit, but the opportunity presented itself and so I went. I am glad I did. I learned a lot including that there are places hotter than Virginia in August. I also met some wonderful people and ate some incredible food.Since that trip I have continued to read and learn about the country, the people and the war that caused such disruption in Vietnam and the United States.This book was a good addition to my reading list. Elliott tells the story of her family in the context of the French occupation, the split into two countries, the involvement with the United States and then the end of the war between North and South. She had a lot to cover which explains why her memoir is almost 500 pages. I now have a much better understanding of how the Vietnamese came to be warring against themselves. I will need to watch the Ken Burns documentary on Vietnam to help me understand how the US got so involved.This was a very scholarly work about a family who took government service seriously. I wonder how this story would be told by someone whose family was middle or working class. I think Elliott has many advantages because of her family’s service to the state. However, I realize that once Communism won the war, her family suffered because they weren’t part of the proletariat.The whole time I was reading this book a particular song kept repeating in my head. It is part of the reason that my quotation above is from the last paragraph of the book. Scott Ainsley is a wonderful singer and this is his composition. I am glad there is peace again in Vietnam.

  • Ching
    2019-04-27 10:08

    From the perspectives of four generations, this book is objective and full of personal stories which are representative of the life of all the people.I found this book objective, providing historical background and viewpoints from different angles. Great read. Recommend to anyone who is interested in knowing about the defining history of Vietnam in 20th century

  • Paul Starbuck
    2019-05-12 10:22

    Great story - a bit plodding in places but overall very personal and authentic. Incredible how this family stayed together despite war, conflicts, social pressure & changes, and international moves. Recommended!

  • Michael Connolly
    2019-04-27 15:33

    The author describes her upper middle class family and its history of Confucian scholars and government officials. Before the foreigners started arriving, Vietnam was getting along just fine. Vietnam was a Confucian and civilized country, and so there was no justification for it being colonized. However, due to its technological and military weakness, it was at the mercy of more powerful countries such as China, Japan, France and the United States. It was fascinating to read the author's description of the changes following the arrival of the French. But the problems caused by the French were mild compared to the Japanese invasion during World War II. Northern Vietnam endured a famine during the winter of 1944-1945, primarily due to this invasion. At least four hundred thousand people died, perhaps many more. Ho Chi Minh was popular, partially because he helped relieve this war-time famine. After the 1954 communist victory over the French in North Vietnam, there was land reform. Many middle class and rich lost their houses and farms to poor landless peasants. Even those landowners who had supported the Viet Minh lost almost everything. Many middle-class Vietnamese, including the author, fled to the south. Many South Vietnamese expected the Americans, who had left in 1973, to return in 1975, to stop the communists from taking over, but they were surprised and disappointed when the Americans chose not to return and save them. The Americans did, however, take thousands of Vietnamese with them in 1975, to protect them from reprisals. When the Viet Cong took over South Vietnam in 1975, they treated the civilian population well, but they were gradually replaced by North Vietnamese cadres, who were harsher. Many of those southerners who supported the Viet Cong were disappointed after the communist victory, because they were abandoned, while those who never fought, but had political connections, were rewarded. As was the case in 1954, your economic class membership and political connections often mattered more than your history of contributions to the communist cause.The south had lots of consumer goods, because of the American presence. Many of the North Vietnamese cadres looted the South and brought their loot back to the north. After the communists took over South Vietnam, they deliberately inflated the currency to wipe out the savings of the middle class and reduce them to the level of the poor. The author talks about members of her family who were sent to reeducation camps. From reading this description of reeducation camps in Vietnam, and comparing it to accounts I have read of Chinese communist Lao Gai, North Korean forced labor camps, the Soviet Gulag, and Japanese POW camps, it seems that the Vietnamese camps were less harsh. The author has not written an anti-communist polemic. Clearly, there were many idealistic individuals who supported the communist cause, who wished only to improve the situation of the poor. Conversely, the author describes the corruption of the Saigon government. I learned for the first time of the Diem regime's favoratism of Roman Catholics over Buddhists, as a motivation for Buddhist protests. I also learned that the Chinese suburb of Saigon, Cholon, had a history of being a gambling center.

  • Mackenzie Findlay
    2019-05-24 10:11

    I enjoyed this book but it is so long. I think the author could have cut down some of the details about the intricacies of war and still had a great book - or cut it in two? With her life beginning a separate book. But overall, I learned so much and found the story of her family fascinating, particularly having been to Vietnam recently. Would recommend but know you're in for a long book :)

  • Claudia Zeien
    2019-05-25 13:12

    I purchased Sacred Willow as a primer for an upcoming trip to Vietnam. I was looking for more of a historical novel, but was not able to find anything appealing in that genre. Many novels are available about the Vietnam war itself, but little available depicting earlier history.This book is slow going, as difficult to keep all the names of family members and locations straight, but worth the effort. By the time I got to the author's generation I was fully engrossed. While I was not looking for details about the Vietnam war itself, this section of the book was by far the most compelling. It really details the wartime activities from a variety of perspectives. The author had family members on both sides of the conflict, and in multiple locations, so a detailed and thorough account is provided.

  • McKenzie
    2019-05-24 09:36

    I brought The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family on my trip to Vietnam, hoping it would be something like a Vietnamese version of Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China. Duong Van Mai Elliott narrates the history of her family over the last four generations (although she covers her great-grandfather and her grandparents in the first few chapters). The majority of this large book focuses on her parents and her own experiences over the last several decades, during the French and American wars and in their aftermath as the Communist government took over. Elliott provided exactly what I was hoping for: an accessible entrance into Vietnam's complicated recent history. Elliott had family members on both the Communist and anti-Communist sides of the war involving France and America, and provides an account that may not be unbiased, but one which is aware of its biases and is able to understand the viewpoints of both sides. She also examines the larger political context before narrowing her focus to what her individual family members experienced, and I was able to learn a lot from her account about elements of the American involvement in Vietnam that had previously been confusing for me. She recognizes that her family was middle class and that their experience of the wars was very different from lower-class peasants, and yet she is very open about how her own viewpoints about the war and Communism itself changed over time. For readers who want an accessible history of Vietnam over the last several decades, including particularly an understanding of how the changing governments impacted the middle class, I strongly recommend The Sacred Willow. This is exactly the kind of book I was hoping to find to help me understand on a more personal level the changes in Vietnam before, during, and after the wars, and it gave me context that I appreciated throughout my trip to Vietnam.

  • ♔ Jessica Marie
    2019-05-03 14:34

    The Sacred Willow is a book about Vietnam and it's history portrayed by the life of one Vietnamese family. Unlike most books about the war in Vietnam, this book offers the views of the Vietnamese themselves instead of the views of foreigners. Another important aspect is the fact that Elliot shows the opinons and values of both the people who support and are against the Viet Minh. This is done by the views of her family and the views of her sister Thang, who leaves to fight for the Viet Minh. While studying abroad Elliot is able to get an outside perspective and begins to feel a connection to the Viet Minh, at least to the point that she understands why they are willing to fight.I did enjoy this book becuase it directly tied into my history class, but if it was not for that I do not know if I would of truely enjoyed it. The book is fascinating, since it gives American readers the views of the Vietnamese that we were fighting for in the Vietnam War. Another plus, is the reader does not have to be familiar with Vietnamese history beacuse Elliot does an excellent job describing the historical events. However, the book is a little dry, a very long read, and a little bias toward the Viet Minh (Elliot did grow up in a family that strongly despised the communists). I would probably only recomened it for modern history lovers, those who have an appreciation for Vietnam or the Vietnamese War. The book is definitely not for leisure readers.

  • Thuyen
    2019-05-02 17:34

    When I first started reading I thought it was a pretty dry retelling of a family's story during the Vietnam war. But that can be forgiven when you consider English is not the author's first language. The novel gives a real face to how war is hell and opened my eyes to what my family must have survived. Actually while I was reading it I thought, hey, didn't my aunt go to school in DC? Hey, she married a guy named David too! It turned out it is not my aunt who wrote this book, but it certainly hit home how this really could have been my family. There is a little bias in the book, but overall she does a very good job giving an objective account of the war. If you are interested in learning more about the war and the American involvement, I highly recommend it.

  • Gregory
    2019-04-27 12:14

    A portrait of the author's family (several generations of it) and, more broadly, of 20th century Vietnam. The first third focuses on a changing Vietnam roiled by occupying powers -- France, Japan, China, and the United States -- and the shifting fortunes of the author's family among those changes. The middle of the book is a careful -- at times admiring, at times critical -- look at class divisions in Vietnam and the Viet Minh movement (primarily from the point of view of the author's Mandarin class background). The final part of the book is a harrowing account of the family's diaspora -- to France, the United States, and Australia -- and also of the fate of those who stayed. The prose is uneven, and the pace can drag at times, but compelling overall. Highly recommended.

  • Gianna Le
    2019-05-08 09:10

    I'm reading this book to learn more about Vietnamese history through the lens of a woman tied to generations of political figures who sought to preserve cultural values amidst Chinese, French, Japanese, and American superpowers throughout the past century. My insight to Vietnam's political struggle has been from the jaded experiences my family encountered against the Viet Cong. This book has given me, so far, a humanistic viewpoint on the ideals of Communism within the context of national independence and the exploitation, cruelty, and harm that evolved from misplaced power...Through a sense of kinship and shared struggle, I am realizing the pain and hope embedded in the Vietnamese experience.

  • Julian Haigh
    2019-05-22 10:21

    An impressive and eye-opening account from a family's perspective of Vietnam society, structure and governance that developed from "scholars first, peasants second, artisans third, and merchants fourth" to the upending French and American 'civilizational' influences to "prostitutes first, cyclo drivers second, taxi drivers third, and maids fourth." The Duong family was upended by war, resettled to the North, a few achieved mandarin status, and during the 20th century was broken apart to different sides of the American war. Great book and I wish this is where I started to learn Vietnamese history.

  • Maura
    2019-05-05 13:10

    I read this as part of my Intro to Asian History course. It gives incredible insight into Vietnam, its cultural heritage and its history. I do not recommend reading it the way I did - as assigned work which I read and had to write a report on all within the space of a few weeks. Take your time with it, reflect on it at leisure and no reports! Also be warned, this book is long and follows four generations - it's really drawn out. Not always the most interesting reading, but you learn a lot from it.

  • Kim
    2019-05-10 15:10

    Non-fiction.This book was amazing. I read it when The Mr and I were preparing to move to Vietnam, and I found it informative and powerful. Though it would probably appeal to expatriate Vietnamese more than those who've never left Vietnam, I think that the story of the sister who joined the Viet Minh is still handled in a way which shows her as a good person, enduring hardship due to her idealism. It seems fair to both sides, though perhaps those on the extremes of either side would disagree with me.

  • Cynthia Olaya
    2019-05-18 13:30

    Fascinating perspective on Vietnam--not just the war most Americans know. Full of descriptive tales and unique perspectives. I wish I had read this prior to my trips to Vietnam--North and South. A Vietnamese woman told me (based on looking at the sleeve), that if I read the book, I "Don't need to go there." The comment saddened me as I felt it reflects the idea of so many refugees that the war-torn history is all there is to the country ( and for many of them, that is the case). It made me long to return.

  • Dinah Jefferies
    2019-05-20 10:10

    A fantastic fabulous way to read about the extraordinary history of Vietnam through the real story of four generations of a Vietnamese family. Until I read this book I had no idea how turbulent the history of this once French ‘owned’ country had been. We all know about the American War, but there was so much more: other wars, famine, deprivation. It’s a great introduction and because it almost reads like a novel it keeps you gripped. Since reading this, I have become obsessed about finding out even more.

  • Elaine Head
    2019-05-18 17:27

    Through the story of four generations of her family's history we come to know more about the fabric of the turbulent history of Vietnam. The wars, conflicts, changing governments and regulations, persecutions and hunger become real. From mandarins to Viet Minh family members bring to life the events which have shaped modern Vietnam.An ambitious and well researched and written tome.

  • A.j. Bealing
    2019-04-29 15:09

    Not sure what I think yet as all intentions to read so far subverted to need to sort work before holiday. I guess this is why we need the 3-hour check-in at the airport ... only chance to read up on destination. Oh yes, and the 16 hours of flying at lengthy hang-around in Kuala Lumpar. By the time I arrive in Hanoi I WILL HAVE READ THIS, along with the guide book!!!

  • VLT
    2019-04-30 17:09

    When I first opened this book, it seemed dry. But then I found I could not put it down. This book will sweep away any preconceptions that you might have about Vietnam, based on our very myopic "American War" obsession. Our country's sojourn into Vietnam, although it left deep scars, is only a page in the long history of the country. This is a fascinating story.