Dust Child
by Que Mai Phan Nguyen
Hardcover- $28.00

From the bestselling author of The Mountains Sing, a richly poetic and suspenseful saga about two Vietnamese sisters, an American ...

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  "The book raises serious questions." by thewanderingjew (see profile) 12/19/22

Dust Child-Que Mai Phan Nguyen, author
This is a heartbreaking book about the Vietnam War. It highlights the dreadful effects of it on those that experienced the hardship that it brought, brought directly to the villages and the families of Vietnam. It is about the war’s lasting effect upon those who suffered through its devastating toll of death and destruction. It is about those who survived it all to tell their stories. Using the story of two completely opposite men, Dan, a former soldier in search of a woman and child that he left behind in Vietnam, and Phong, a child in search of the soldier who had left both his mother and him behind, during the war, the author has written a story of the tragic war from the other side, the side of those whose lives were ruined by America’s presence in their country, the story of those who were abandoned. In more ways than one, America did Abandon Vietnam.
Dan’s story begins in 1969. Dan and his girlfriend Linda were engaged. When he was drafted, she swore she would wait for him. Dan was trained as a helicopter pilot and sent to Vietnam. Once there, he did what most of the soldiers did. For distraction and relaxation, he went to the bars where the beautiful Vietnamese women (often so young, they were merely teenage girls), entertained them. Their job was to get the soldiers to drink and to please them in other ways, if asked. These young women were secretly trying to help their families make ends meet, pretending that they worked in offices, not dens of iniquity. They sent money home to help provide for the basic needs of their families, the needs that the war had robbed them of their own ability to provide. Their families were in debt and were unable to sustain their land or their bodies. The money was necessary and plentiful if they followed the rules and did their jobs well.
When Dan visited the Hollywood Bar, he met Kim (Trang), and although he intended to stay faithful to Linda, as he taught Kim English, and she taught him her language, their relationship deepened. He rented an apartment for her, and they were both content. She believed that unlike other American soldiers, he was decent. She thought he respected her and loved her and would not abandon her. Now in 2016, his wife had convinced him to return to Vietnam to find closure, and hopefully, to end his nightmares about the war. She does not know about the woman and child he had, indeed, abandoned. His remorse and war memories haunt him, but will their marriage survive if he confesses the whole truth?
Phong’s story also begins in 1969. His mother, destroyed by the ravages of the war, had struggled to survive. She became a prostitute. When she had a child, unable to take care of the infant, she left him at an orphanage. Fearful for the child’s safety, she secretly watched him until a nun heard his cries and rescued him. Phong was a “child of the dust”, a misfit, abandoned and alone, a product of an American and a Vietnamese, an Amerasian. His life has been filled with struggle. He had been shunned and belittled, bullied and abused because of his unknown ancestry. Dark skin is not prized in Vietnam, a place where women wear masks and cover up with clothing to prevent them from even darkening a bit of their skin from sun exposure. He had always wanted to go to America to find his father. Years ago, if he had not gotten scammed and falsified his Visa application documents, he probably would have long since been gone. In 2016, he was making another attempt at securing Visas for himself, his wife and their two children. He did not know that the agent who was helping him was a con man and a fraud. He failed to secure the Visas.
As the past of both of these men was revealed, the toll that the war had taken, on both sides, became obvious, as well. Some of the behavior had been shameful, some had been criminal, all had been irresponsible and self-serving. American soldiers were callow and callous. They treated the Vietnamese women like toys, like playthings put before them as entertainment. They thought nothing about the consequences of their behavior. They thought nothing of the women and children they left behind. They thought nothing of the lives they destroyed on the battlefield and on their “playing field”.
Questions: Is it possible for Dan and Linda’s marriage to survive the test of time when Dan had so many secrets and had so often lied to her? Would Binh and Phong ever be allowed to emigrate to America? Would he give up the fight to leave Vietnam? Would either Dan or Phong find satisfaction and peace?
The author, in her own life, has worked with Amerasians who are seeking their history and relatives, seeking a place where they belong. The book revealed just how heartless and cruel American behavior had been toward the Vietnamese, showing a total disregard for the Amerasians they spawned. America was fighting Communism on behalf of Vietnam, but also on behalf of its own need to prevent those ideas and way of life from spreading elsewhere. Were they so intent on fighting Communism that they disregarded the lives they were destroying in the process? The book sometimes makes the American motives seem far worse than those of the Viet Cong. Is this idea justified? Because America essentially invaded their country, it is hard to dispute the message. However, one can’t dismiss the death and destruction, the terror and the horror, that the Communists rained down upon them, either.
While the book was interesting and even educational, because it is rather negative and judgmental about America’s behavior in Vietnam, it is not an easy read. For sure, it showed that although America was ostensibly trying to save Vietnam from the effects of Communism, it horribly backfired. In addition, according to the author’s novel, under the guidance of the North Vietnamese, the country has begun to prosper, and the North Vietnamese were not as cruel as they were expected to be. So should we have interfered in the government of a foreign country, especially when we consider the fact that we abandoned that country and its people too?

  "A Perfect Book Club Choice" by Bookreader49 (see profile) 03/22/23

This story is compelling, heartbreaking and so beautifully written by an author known for her poetry. Nguyen Phan Que Mai does an impressive job of showing us the far reaching impact war has on all those involved...the young servicemen, the ordinary citizens. who struggle to survive and most of all the Ameriasians that through no fault of their own have to deal with the tragic fallout of war. A powerful story with well developed characters. An important novel to increase our understanding of the impact of war. Perfect book club book.

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