Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Review: Postcards from Nam by Uyen Nicole Duong

ISBN #: 978-1612180182
Page Count: 114
Copyright: 2011

Book Summary:
(Taken from Amazon)

Mimi is a successful young Vietnamese immigrant practicing law in Washington, D.C. when the postcards begin to arrive.  Postmarked from Thailand, each hand-drawn card is beautifully rendered and signed simply "Nam."  Mimi doesn't recognize the name, but Nam obviously knows her well, spurring her to launch what will become a decade-long quest to find him.  As her search progresses, long-repressed memories begin to bubble to the surface: her childhood in 1970s Vietnam in a small alley in pre-Communist Saigon.  Back then, Nam was her best friend, a gifted artist who dreamed of someday sending his work around the globe.  But when the children were separated by war, their lives diverged onto different paths: one to freedom and opportunity, the other to tragedy and pain.  Now Mimi must uncover Nam's story from the ensuing years, including his harrowing escape by boat from his ravaged homeland.  Throughout her search, she clings to the hope that, despite the distance between them, the friends can share solace in the artwork that has reunited them.

Charlene's Review:

As an introduction/dedication, Uyen Nicole Duong begins Postcards from Nam with these words:

Although this novella is fictitious, the idea that started this novella comes from a real-life story.  Dead at sea or living outside of Vietnam in memory of their past, those Vietnamese Boat People who once knew me as a young girl in Vietnam will always remain the impetus for my writing.

A third in a series of stories, it stands well on its own.  So begins the story of Mimi, a refugee of the American airlift during the fall of Saigon.  Now a successful lawyer, Mimi has moved on from that part of her life, but as her theory states, 'We never completely forget. We just bandage ourselves.'  A series of postcards from the mysterious "Nam" starts to uncover all those old memories.  At first, with the bandage firmly in place, Mimi cannot recall who this mysterious writer could be, but after several postcards show up with personal comments to the girl she used to be, Mimi recalls her childhood neighbor, the "pretty boy," and the memories associated that begged her to forget.  Eventually, Mimi embarks on a mission to find the man who pens such beautiful words and disturbing pictures.

In the journey, she encounters some ugly truths about what the Boat People had to endure, and what the always-loyal Nam has become.  This may well have been the hardest review I have had to do.  A child during the fall of Saigon, I do not remember much and as an American, always believed I was immune to that tragedy.  Reading Postcards from Nam was haunting.  I truly struggle to give this book its justice.  There is a lyrical quality to the writing that belies the horror of the Vietnamese refugees.  Uyen Nicole Duong writes a chilling story of past injustice, and the continuing healing of a people who fought to retain dignity in an abominable reality.  It is also a love story, of sorts, but not in a traditional sense.  Nam's devotion to Mimi (Mi Chau) is not lustful or simple, but a loyalty to what could have been, and the duty he felt, as a child, to protect her from what was happening around them.

Extremely powerful and achingly beautiful, Postcards from Nam is a testament to the human spirit's ability to survive and its need to persevere.

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