Tag Archives: Dang Thuy Tram

Book Club: Last Night I Dreamed of Peace Pt. 4

Hi friends! I’ve been super busy the last few weeks and the blog has definitely taken a back seat…but don’t worry — reading has not!

For consistency’s sake, I wanted to have a part 4 on this book. Butttttt I just don’t have time to write up a full-on reflection. SO! I shall direct you to Parts 1 – 3 on Last Night I Dreamed of Peace — here, here and here. I’d love if you’d check them out!

Also, since reading this book club book, I’ve also devoured Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook. Either would make for an awesome summer read if historical fiction is your jam!

I’d also like to announce that the next book I’ll be discussing in this series is *drumroll please* THE TRUE MEMOIRS OF LITTLE K by Adrienne Sharp. Nab a copy and follow along, why dontcha?! It’s a fictionalized account of the real life Russian ballerina who was the mistress of the future Tsar Nicholas II.

Want the full Finding Delight Book Club reading list?  CLICK HERE.

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Book Club: Last Night I Dreamed of Peace Pt. 3

If you enjoyed reading Last Night I Dreamed of Peace, or feel like you’re not done learning the lessons it initiated, here’s what I recommend…

Continue Reading:

Books –
The Sorrow of War
When Heaven and Earth Changed Places
Catfish and Mandala

Articles –
How the North Vietnamese remember the conflict 40 years after the fall of Saigon
Vietnam’s female spies who helped change the course of the war

Continue Watching:

YouTube Videos –
Viet Cong Tunnels and Traps
A Vietnamese Soldier’s Perspective
The Vietnam War’s Agent Orange Legacy

Documentary –
Chau, Beyond the Lines

Movie –
Dung Dot // Don’t Burn

Continue Listening:

Podcasts –
UnFictional – The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram
What is Agent Orange?

Continue Experiencing:

Field Trip –
Visit The Vietnam Center at Texas Tech University

Stay tuned for Part 4! And if you want exclusive book club content (incl. the full reading list and FREE printables) sent straight to your inbox — SIGN UP HERE

Book Club: Last Night I Dreamed of Peace Pt. 2

(Photo Credit: http://www.news.zing.vn)

Let’s learn a bit more about Thuy’s remarkable diary and the journey it took to publication, shall we? Dang Thuy Tram, born in Vietnam in 1942, was a young doctor. During the Vietnam War, she worked for the People’s Army of Vietnam and Vietcong as a battlefield surgeon, clinic supervisor, and medical teacher. On June 22, 1970 she was killed by a patrol from the US 4th Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment while fleeing from a clinic that was undergoing repeated attacks. She was 27 years old. The last two years of her life are chronicled in her diaries, published as Last Night I Dreamed of Peace.

“Last night I dreamed that Peace was established, I came back and saw everybody.”

Following Thuy’s death, her diary was discovered by Fred Whitehurst, a 22 year old military intelligence specialist under strict orders to burn any documents he encountered without military value. He defied these orders. Instead, choosing to follow the advice of a South Vietnamese translator who said, “Don’t burn this one. . . . It has fire in it already.” He kept Thuy’s pages for 35 years, hoping to some day return them to her family.

His search for her family initially fell short. Whitehurst had returned to the U.S. after the war and pursued a career in chemistry, earning a Ph.D. and joining the FBI. Eventually, he enlisted the help of his brother Robert, another Vietnam vet, and the two of them brought the diary to a conference at Texas Tech University, home of a Vietnam Archive, in 2005.

At the conference, they met up with a photographer named Ted Engelmann who was planning a trip to Vietnam for work. He offered to do some scouting efforts for the brothers while there. It worked! Engelmann located Thuy’s mom.

Shortly after finding themselves in possession of scanned copies of her work, Thuy’s family had the diary published in Vietnam. Nhật ký Đặng Thùy Trâm rapidly became a hit. 300,000 copies were sold in less than a year and reviews drew comparisons between the wartime diaries and the work of Anne Frank.

Amidst the success of the publication, the Whitehurst brothers traveled to Hanoi to meet the family and later they would all visit Lubbock, Texas where the diaries were archived. Upon seeing her daughter’s handwritten notebooks, Thuy’s mother said, “Her corpse is in Vietnam, but this is her soul.”

In 2007 Thuy’s diary was translated into English for broader publication and this book would include photographs of Thuy and her family from their personal collection. While Vietnamese readers were huge fans of the book, folks involved were worried American reactions might be mixed, due to the depiction of U.S. involvement in the war and Thuy’s frequent references to the “American devils.”

Regardless, readers found Thuy’s words provided an honest depiction of the realities of war. The deputy director of the Vietnam Archive said, “They contain an emotional element that is typically lacking in official documents.”

“Don’t burn this one. . . . It has fire in it already.” 

Got any thoughts? Leave ’em below! And if you want exclusive book club content (incl. the full reading list and FREE printables) sent straight to your inbox — SIGN UP HERE. Part 3, coming soon!

Book Club: Last Night I Dreamed of Peace Pt. 1

Hello, fellow bookworms! Today I’m unveiling Book #4 in the Finding Delight Book Club. My how time flies! If you’re new to this series, I’m reading 12 books and sharing about them with you here. I plan to post 4 times for each book. This month, Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram translated by Andrew X. Pham.

For the full book list CLICK HERE. I’d love to have you along for the ride!

“Come to me, squeeze my hand, know my loneliness,
and give me the love,  the strength to prevail
on the perilous road before me.” 

Synopsis

Amidst the deadliest portion of the Vietnam War, a young woman, Dang Thuy Tram, leaves her family behind in Hanoi and sets off to work in a field hospital. As a recently trained doctor she is tasked with treating civilians and soldiers alike as fierce guerrilla battles occur day in and day out within the foliage nearby.

For comfort, she writes in her diary. She records her patient encounters, friends who have been killed in the fighting, her longing for a man she calls M., and her dreams.

These wartime recollections were rescued when, at war’s end, American soldiers were burning documents. A Vietnamese translator got hold of Thuy’s diary and proclaimed, “Don’t burn this one, it has fire in it already.” 

Breaking protocol, an American officer preserved the diary and kept it for 35 years, eventually delivering it into the hands of Thuy’s mother. It was later published in Vietnam and then translated into English by Andrew X. Pham.

Last Night I Dreamed of Peace is the parting gift from an unlikely heroine, killed at 27. Her voice lives on to help generations to come remember that compassion and dignity can persist in the face of the atrocities of war.

“Half of  our heart is filled with red blood, half with black. In our mind there is also a balance between the bright, intelligent and beautiful facets and the dark, negative, and cowardly parts. If I can grasp that in its entirety, then I can achieve tranquility and stability in this life.”

Initial thoughts 

First off, don’t skip the introduction! This bit of text penned by Frances Fitzgerald (author of Fire in the Lake) is excellent and offers insightful observations about the book’s meaning, history and origins. I don’t know a ton about the Vietnam War and the introduction helped to place Thuy’s writing into the larger narrative of world conflicts.

The fact that the book is a diary, the interior monologue of a young woman enduring the realities of war, is what drew me to it. (Anyone else read Anne Frank as a kid and become obsessed with the war diary genre?) And a new doctor, no less! Throughout the book she talks of caring for wounded Viet Cong soldiers below the 17th parallel that divided Vietnam into North and South. Her life is often in danger as the American “enemy” and guerrillas wage war mere paces from her makeshift field hospitals.

There’s also an element of romance to her life’s tale as she followed a man from back home into this service. She talks of “M.” frequently in the pages of the diary. Unfortunately, they have both become so committed to their duties that striking things back up seems nearly impossible. Thuy mourns the loss of what could have been.

Given her proximity to the violent, bloody, gory scenes of war, it’s interesting to note that descriptions of such things are limited. But of course, Thuy is a physician, not a soldier. This means grappling with the aftermath, putting the pieces back together that war tore apart.

In translation, her writing is extremely lyrical. Less an account of what’s happening and more poetic perceptions and ponderings — about the damages of war, firm communist beliefs, relationships with the people she meets in the clinic, and sometimes their deaths too. This style, along with the repetitiveness of Thuy’s thoughts, could definitely be off-putting to some. But at the end of the day, she’s a woman in her 20’s who can’t figure out which dude she’s in love with! She’s the epitome of “in her feelings.” Add war to that emotional hotbox and I think I can excuse the fact that she often wants to discuss pining for men rather than the AK-47 wounds she sewed up earlier that day.

Finally, reading Thuy’s wartime recollections as an American is a thought-provoking exercise in seeing the “enemy” as human. It’s easy to relate to a person when they lay their hopes and fears bare on a page. Reading that she dreamed of peace hopefully serves as a reminder, that death as a result of war is always a tragedy, regardless of sides.

Read this if you’re interested in: the Vietnam War, medical history, women physicians, wartime diaries

Read this if you loved: Home Front Girl by Joan Whelen Morrison, The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh, and When Heaven and Earth Changed Places by Le Ly Hayslip

Other works mentioned: Fire in the Lake by Frances Fitzgerald

Keep a lookout for Part 2! It’ll be hitting this site next week.

And don’t forget — if you want the full reading list CLICK HERE. You’ll basically become a card-carrying member of the Finding Delight Book Club! ❤