Meeting on a very human level is one of the best ways to bridge a cultural gap, and Beyond the Rice Paddies gives readers an opportunity to meet, Oanh, a young Vietnamese girl as she recounts her life and experiences during the Vietnam War. The writing is simple and childlike, yet engaging, and an almost pragmatic approach to some incidents makes them more dramatic.
For instance, the contrast between how a dead Viet Cong body is treated and how the body of a village boy is treated is stark. Both are left in the town square to be identified and claimed by family, but the body of the Viet Cong lies for days in the sun because the family is afraid to claim it. Of course, the child narrator doesnâ€™t know this. She and the other village children only know that the body has begun to stink.
To a child, the war has no context, and her concerns are only for how it affects her daily life. Like when she hears gunshots in the night and knows the Viet Cong have breached the wall behind their house and she has to hide in the hole dug beneath her bed. Thatâ€™s when the war is real. When gunshots ring out and bullets tear holes in the walls of her house. Only the presence of her grandmother, Ba Noi, can calm her fear and stop the pounding of her heart.
Oanh lives with her grandmother because her mother â€œworksâ€ in Saigon, and her father has gone to live with his first wife and that family. Ba Noi is a woman of simple means and simple wisdom, telling Oanh at one point to â€œlet go of the hate. Be kind and mindful to your heart.â€ This counsel is given when other children have ripped the pretty dress Oanhâ€™s mother brought her from Saigon.
Another time Ba Noi warns of the danger of Viet Cong infiltrating their village and looking for traitors to their cause. â€œBe mindful of what you say to others. It is best not to say anything.â€
That is good advice for anyone in any circumstance or place.
I really enjoyed this book. Coming from a subsidy publisher, I didnâ€™t expect the book to read as smoothly as it does, and it only has a few places where a good editor might have improved the writing.
About the Author
Linda West, whose name at birth was Tran Thi Back Yen Oanh, immigrated to the United States from Bien Hoa, Vietnam, at the age of ten. The author is donating half of her royalties from the book to the Vietnam Veterans of America and the American Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. She also is contributing another portion of her royalties to cover the costs of rebuilding her grade school in Bien Hoa. West, a mother of three grown children, owns and operates a residential real estate company in Tucson, Arizona.
Beyond the Rice Paddies
PaperbackÂ – 109 pages – $11.95
Maryann Miller —Â Maryann’s Blog