Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Book Review: 'Rain Falling on Tamarind Trees' by C.L. Hoang

C. L. Hoàng was born and raised in South Vietnam during the war and came to the United States in the 1970s. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, and earns his living as an electronic engineer, with eleven patents to his name to date. What C.L. Hoang has accomplished in this memorable travelogue is to reawaken a part of history that so desperately needs to be re-examined. Understanding the Vietnam War -roughly November 1955 with the first American advisors, escalating in 1964 with the Gulf of Tonkin incident, building in 1965 and peaking in 1968 with the Tet Offensive and lasting until the fall of Saigon in April 1975 - is something we all must attempt. For those of us who served in Vietnam in 1968 - 1970 those memories we thought best submerged need to come forth, allowing us to examine them and never repeat them. What Hoàng has provided is a table to which he invites us to see that war from both sides and in doing so understand the trauma inflicted on all involved, lasting into the present for many.

Preface - 'By nature I am a slow planner, especially when it comes to long trips away from home. So imagine my surprise when in 2016 I was presented with an opportunity to join a group tour to Southeast Asia, with the main focus on Việt-Nam, and I heard myself spontaneously blurt out, “Sign me up!” From what I gathered, it was going to be one heck of a trip. Seventeen days in total, beginning and ending with a 20-hour flight over an 8,000-mile stretch of ocean, across 15 time zones and the International Date Line and a wide scale of climate changes. Most significant to me, it would mark my first time to travel back to the ancestral homeland I hadn’t seen in over four decades. On several occasions over the years, I had entertained the thought of such a venture but had invariably faltered when confronted with the logistics. After all, Việt-Nam, having just opened its door in the last 25 years, is still a relatively new tourist destination in the midst of modernizing its infrastructures. But even more daunting than the challenge of mapping out a detailed itinerary, complete with hotel and transport accommodations, was a pervasive sense of uncertainty: Has the country healed from decades of brutal warfare, enough to welcome visitors with open arms? What is it like nowadays inside one of the last remaining communist regimes in the world? Would I find myself a lost stranger in the land of my childhood, thus confirming the perennial adage that one can never go home again? But then when I learned that the tour in question was organized by an international travel company of good repute and that it would be headed by an experienced Vietnamese guide who would handle all the planning minutiae, I realized on the spot I had no more excuses. It was now or never: Time to discover the answers to my questions.’ And this is simply his background that opens a book of memories, renewal, discoveries and one of the finest series of photographs of meaningful places and people o Vietnam available today.

There is a statement on his website about the purpose of the book – and it is worth quoting: ‘Have you ever wondered what Vietnam is like some forty years after the war has ended? Then come along with the author as he returns to visit his ancestral homeland for the first time after a decades-long absence. Retrace his steps with him around his former hometown of Saigon in the south, and then follow him along on an itinerary of discovery to other unique destinations throughout the country: Hoi-An, the best-preserved medieval seaport in Southeast Asia; Hue, the ancient capital of imperial Vietnam, on the central coast; Halong Bay, a world-renowned natural wonder; and Hanoi, the country’s thousand-year-old capital, in the north. Filled with historical and cultural tidbits and personal reminiscences, and illustrated with over forty photographs, Rain Falling on Tamarind Trees offers the reader an insightful and fascinating glimpse of this tropical land.’

A treasure box for those Vietnamese who were transplanted here after the war, and a very special reflection for those of us who only saw the war ravaged Vietnam during in combat the 60s. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, November 17
I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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