Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Review: Finding the Dragon Lady: The Mystery of Vietnam's Madame Nhu by Monique Brinson

Monique Brinson Demery. New York: PublicAffairs, 2013. 280 pp.
Rating: Striking

"Vietnam wasn’t a country; it was a cacophony of thumping helicopter blades, flaming thatched huts, and napalmed jungles." (3)

In the vein of Truman Capote, Demery humanizes the often demonized First Lady of Vietnam, Madame Nhu. As the second daughter in a society where sons are esteemed, Tran Thi Le Xuan held the lowest status in her family. Her fortuitous fate as foretold by the family astrologer failed to garner the slightest attention. She was expected to live as the thousands of women before her—a life of domestic simplicity. Yet, her life changed dramatically upon marrying Ngo Digh Nhu. Gradually drawn into the very political intrigues she sought to escape upon marriage, Madame Nhu soon catapulted into the limelight of the Diem regime. Thrust into exile after the assassination of her husband and brother-in-law, Madame Nhu never again set foot in her beloved Vietnam.

The infamous Dragon Lady proves an interesting figure. I wish more of Madame Nhu’s diary entries were divulged; thereby, unearthing the vulnerable woman behind the dynamic political persona. However, the book reveals glimpses of a woman seeking to uncloak her invisibility to her parents, siblings, husband, and the world—she would not be ignored. 

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