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Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of…

Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram (2005)

by Dang Thuy Tram

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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I've always avoided the Vietnam War as a topic (my Dad's a history buff who almost wound up serving in Vietnam, and it always seemed wiser to avoid the conversation). Learned a lot from this, especially, I think, since I read it after Stockdale's Vietnam Experience). Totally different perspective. I don't think we'd have gotten along if we were somehow to have met, me being a bourgeois North American and her being a, well, admittedly also bourgeois, but dedicated Communist. And she was: there's mention, in the earlier parts of the diary, about her concern about how the local Communist party is being run, but never any hint of treason, or of any doubt about Communism in general or Ho Chi Minh in particular. I admire her idealism, and can't help but think that the time she was writing was more or less when Martin Luther King was saying that someone who has not yet found a cause for which they'd be willing to die has not yet started to live. She had her cause, and she lived, breathed & died for it. Part of me envies her. ( )
  Heduanna | Jul 24, 2013 |
The diary of a young North Vietnamese woman, working as a doctor for the Viet Cong. By turns poignant and polemical, it manages to be more engaging than not, and to provide a different perspective than we usually get. The introduction by Frances Fitzgerald (and read by her in the audiobook) summarizes the action, as well as the path by which the book came to be published and its reception in Vietnam. The reader pronounces the tones in Vietnamese words, which is welcome. ( )
  OshoOsho | Mar 30, 2013 |
Dang Thuy Tram was a North Vietnamese doctor during the Vietnamese war. She kept diaries during the war. Thuy was killed in the conflict, and her diary was discovered by someone serving in American military intelligence. According to protocol, he should have destroyed the diary after determining that it had no intelligence value, but instead he kept it. 30 years later, a copy of the diary was returned to Thuy's mother in Vietnam, where it was published. It was also translated into English for publication in the U.S.

The diary wasn't what I expected to read. That's no fault of the author's. She didn't keep the diary for my benefit, but for her own. I had hoped it would contain more about her medical work and the conditions and challenges she faced. However, the emphasis of her diary entries is mainly personal. She has a lot to say about her relationships, mostly with young men she granted the status of younger brothers. In the earlier entries, she talks about her frustration that she had not yet been accepted as a Communist Party member. She is bothered by perceived criticism and jealousy. She is also troubled by a rift in her romance with a man she refers to as “M.”

Although she was 25 when she began this diary in 1968, Thuy came across to me as somewhat naive. I'm not sure her feelings for at least one of the young men she called “brother” were as platonic as she tried to convince herself they were. I'm not sure her younger brothers' feelings for her were as platonic as she thought they were, either. I think this could have been cause for the jealousy and criticism she experienced.

I think I would have gleaned more from this book if I knew more about the Vietnam War before I read it. The extensive footnotes helped some, but not enough. I was a child during the war, and I've never wanted to revisit the memories I have of the television news reels of the combat, the images of flag-draped coffins returning to the U.S., and images of angry protestors. One of my uncles served in Vietnam, and I remember praying for his safety every night at bedtime. It was a little startling to read of Thuy's hatred of the enemy/Americans. I know there are U.S. veterans who felt that way about the North Vietnamese, but they're not among my family and close friends.

I think this book is best suited for readers with prior knowledge of the causes of the war and the military operations. This review is based on an advance reading copy loaned to me by a friend. ( )
2 vote cbl_tn | Jul 24, 2011 |
Like The Diary of Ann Frank the back-story of this book is perhaps as interesting as the book itself. Thuy was a young North Vietnamese doctor who went to the front (walking the Ho Chi Minh trail for three months to get there) in 1966. She served in Quang Ngai province, where My Lai is located.

When the diary begins in April, 1968 (previous volumes were lost or destroyed) she was 25 years old and the chief physician at a field clinic that served civilians as well as Viet Cong soldiers. By August, 1967 the district where the hospital was located had become a "free-fire zone" where:

"...people lived in caves or in tunnels that also served as bunkers for the guerillas. Many of the hamlets had been burned or bulldozed to deny the guerillas shelter; the fields were pockmarked with craters and the nearby forests were defoliated." (From the introduction written by Frances Fitzgerald).

Thuy's diary ends abruptly in June 1970, when she was killed by American troops. The diaries were found by an American soldier whose task it was to go through captured documents to see if there was anything of military significance. His interpreter told him not to burn the diary: "It has fire in it already." Against all regulations, the American soldier kept the diary and brought it back home after the war. 35 years later, the soldier found Thuy's surviving family in Hanoi, and returned the diaries to her mother and sisters. The diaries were published in North Vietnam and became a huge bestseller.

The diaries themselves are a combination of the mundane and horrific, naivite and wisdom, innocence and cynicism. While Thuy shouldered huge responsibilities and a leadership role, she was also like Ann Frank, still a young woman with dreams and plans for the future. While her descriptions of the war are not graphic, the war is ever-present--the thunder of the bombers and the scramble to the shelters, interactions with the villagers and feeling their pain when their homes are destroyed, the babies, children and other civilians who were wounded and who she tried to save, the barreness of the exfoliated forests.

It was easy for Thuy to demonize the Americans and those Vietnamese soldiers fighting on behalf of South Vietnam, and some may find this aspect of the book jarring. I nevertheless highly recommend the book. Although it's sometimes may seem a little boring or childish it is always compelling. I would also note that it made a very interesting read in conjunction with Novel Without a Name.

I had a bunch of quotes from the book I was going to include here, but unfortunately I have long since returned the book to the library. ( )
2 vote arubabookwoman | May 23, 2011 |
Interesting in that Thuy's diary exposes another side to the Vietnam War. She was obviously an intelligent and caring woman and, although from a prosperous family, was enthusiastically committed to the communist movement. As a doctor she is in charge of a battleground medical clinic treating both wounded soldiers and civilians. She frequently refers to her "brothers" and "sisters" (Viet Cong) as liberators, which is probably how the American forces would have described themselves as well. I'm not sure the South Vietnamese civilians wanted to be liberated by either group, and no doubt would have been a lot better off if this political war had never taken place. ( )
  snowman | Aug 2, 2010 |
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» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dang Thuy Tramprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Drolsbach, MarionTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fitzgerald, FrancesIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pham, Andrew X.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The inflamed days
Joy, sadness condensing in my heart. -- Dang Thuy Tram
"A person's most valuable possession is life. We only live once; we must live so as not to sorely regret the months and years lived wastefully, not to be ashamed of the months and years lived wastefully, so that when we die we can say. "All my life and all my strength have been dedicated to the most noble goal in like, the struggle to liberate the human race." -- N.A. Ostrovsky
To live is to face the storms and not cower before them.
First words
8 April 1968
Operated on one case of appendicitis with inadequate anesthesia. I had only a few meager vials of Novocain to give the soldier, but he never groaned once during the entire procedure.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307347370, Hardcover)

At the age of twenty-four, Dang Thuy Tram volunteered to serve as a doctor in a National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) battlefield hospital in the Quang Ngai Province. Two years later she was killed by American forces not far from where she worked. Written between 1968 and 1970, her diary speaks poignantly of her devotion to family and friends, the horrors of war, her yearning for her high school sweetheart, and her struggle to prove her loyalty to her country. At times raw, at times lyrical and youthfully sentimental, her voice transcends cultures to speak of her dignity and compassion and of her challenges in the face of the war’s ceaseless fury.

The American officer who discovered the diary soon after Dr. Tram’s death was under standing orders to destroy all documents without military value. As he was about to toss it into the flames, his Vietnamese translator said to him, “Don’t burn this one. . . . It has fire in it already.” Against regulations, the officer preserved the diary and kept it for thirty-five years. In the spring of 2005, a copy made its way to Dr. Tram’s elderly mother in Hanoi. The diary was soon published in Vietnam, causing a national sensation. Never before had there been such a vivid and personal account of the long ordeal that had consumed the nation’s previous generations.

Translated by Andrew X. Pham and with an introduction by Pulitzer Prize winner Frances FitzGerald, Last Night I Dreamed of Peace is an extraordinary document that narrates one woman’s personal and political struggles. Above all, it is a story of hope in the most dire of circumstances—told from the perspective of our historic enemy but universal in its power to celebrate and mourn the fragility of human life.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:28 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

At the age of 24, in 1968, Dang Thuy Tram volunteered as a doctor in a Viet Cong battlefield hospital in the Quang Ngai Province. Two years later she was killed by American forces. Her diary speaks poignantly of her devotion to family and friends, the horrors of war, her yearning for her high school sweetheart, and her struggle to prove her loyalty to her country. At times raw, at times lyrical and youthfully sentimental, her voice transcends cultures to speak of her dignity and compassion and of her challenges in the face of the war's ceaseless fury. The American officer who discovered the diary was under orders to destroy all documents without military value. As he was about to toss it into the flames, his Vietnamese translator said to him, "Don't burn this one--it has fire in it already." 35 years later, it was returned home.--From publisher description.… (more)

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