Mandy's Reviews > The Ashes of War
Jan 11, 2018
"Vietnam. The Vietnam War. The Vietnamese Boat People. Images of that terrible time are seared into our minds. And then it was all over. Except, of course, that it wasn’t over, and in many ways still isn’t. We know that many Vietnam vets have struggled with their experiences since then, but we hear less often of what happened to the Vietnamese people themselves after the end of the war and the Americans left, especially to the people who stayed. In this powerful and moving book, Michael Murphy, himself a Vietnam vet and so someone who speaks with authority, explores the immediate aftermath of the war and describes the experiences of some of the Vietnamese people who whose lives were overturned in those terrible days. The book begins in April 1975 in Saigon as the South surrenders to the victorious Communist North. Many of the populace were desperate to escape, and some succeeded, but many chose to stay, or were unable to get out. Two strands make up the narrative. One is based on the experiences of a personal friend of the author who managed to get on a boat and flee. In alternating chapters, we then turn to a tea-shop proprietor, who although a fictional character, epitomises the real-life experiences of many of those who stayed. Choosing to place him in a tea-shop is an effective device, as there he meets a wide range of people and listens in to all sorts of conversations. Day-by-day the strands interweave, until Murphy’s friend escapes and then the latter part of the book concentrates on the tea-shop owner and what happened to him and, by implication, to many others. Painstakingly and meticulously researched, the book is an authentic and compassionate portrait of a people in turmoil. Murphy has a personal and deeply felt relationship with the country and its people, and this comes over loud and clear in his passionate account of their plight. I learnt a lot from reading it and feel I have gained a deeper understanding of the legacy of that infamous war. This is essential reading for anyone interested in the Vietnam War and its aftermath, the country and people in general, and is also profound meditation on the inhumanity of all wars. Highly recommended."