In 1960s Saigon, Sandy finds a world of crushing poverty and extraordinary beauty; a world of streets, villas, and brothels, where politics and intrigue reside between plot and counterplot. Blissfully living a life of French decadence, Sandy maneuvers between coups, spies, bombings, corruption, and scandal as she and her thirteen-year-old brother, Tom, run an illicit baby powder and Hershey bar business on the black market and live a life of school, scouts, dance parties, and movies at the underground theater.
When the Colonel’s counterpart, Colonel Le Van Sam, delivers an expose on the current ruling Diem regime, Sandy finds that her constant spying on her father’s activities has brought her face to face with the reality of Vietnam and the anti-American sentiment that pervades it. This coming-of age story takes place in a turbulent country striving for nationalism, giving the reader a stunning look into the life of military dependents living abroad and the underlying ignorance that surrounded a little understood time in history.
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The Colonel would be proud.
Before any war, any city bombings or French and American military influence, there comes first a culture and a history of a people deep and rich with scents, flavors, colors and spirit whose ancient essence transcend even the most modern “sensibilities”; the same “sensibilities” that ignorantly nourish the deceiving belly of bliss. Without a visceral understanding of history, we are most certainly doomed to repeat it. In fact, sometimes it seems like we are! Through exceptional storytelling, weaving together a tapestry of complex yet surprisingly relatable experiences, the author helps you to truly understand the beauty and the struggle of the ancient culture that is Vietnam, and the meddling arrogance of western imperialism. She accomplishes this using the experiences of her own and those around her. You can feel the blood, bone, skin and sweat of those that lived and died for this story. This is not just another book about the Vietnam war. This is an education about Vietnam before the war, the fragility of human understanding, the dangers of not learning from misunderstood failings, and how to navigate a landscape with nothing more than a bit of zen.