Synopses & Reviews
In November 1963, the president of South Vietnam and his brother were brutally executed in a coup that was sanctioned and supported by the American government. President Kennedy later explained to his close friend Paul Red” Fay that the reason the United States made the fateful decision to get rid of the Ngos was in no small part because of South Vietnam's first lady, Madame Nhu. That goddamn bitch,” Fay remembers President Kennedy saying, She's responsible ... that bitch stuck her nose in and boiled up the whole situation down there.”
The coup marked the collapse of the Diem government and became the US entry point for a decade-long conflict in Vietnam. Kennedy's death and the atrocities of the ensuing war eclipsed the memory of Madame Nhu with her daunting mixture of fierceness and beauty. But at the time, to David Halberstam, she was the beautiful but diabolic sex dictatress,” and Malcolm Browne called her the most dangerous enemy a man can have.”
By 1987, the once-glamorous celebrity had retreated into exile and seclusion, and remained there until young American Monique Demery tracked her down in Paris thirty years later. Finding the Dragon Lady is Demery's story of her improbable relationship with Madame Nhu, and having ultimately been entrusted with Madame Nhu's unpublished memoirs and her diary from the years leading up to the coup the first full history of the Dragon Lady herself, a woman who was feared and fantasized over in her time, and who singlehandedly frustrated the government of one of the world's superpowers.
"Madame Nhu (born Tran Le Xuan) was a notorious personage in South Vietnam during the late 1950s and early '60s. The surrogate First Lady of the repressive government (headed by her husband's bachelor brother, Ngo Dinh Diem) was vocal about her love of power and infamous for her fierce authoritarianism (she once mocked a Buddhist monk who had set himself on fire in protest of Diem's regime by saying she would 'clap her hands for another monk's barbecue'). Her incendiary rhetoric earned her the nickname 'the Dragon Lady.' Yet after her husband and brother-in-law were assassinated during the U.S.-backed military coup of 1963, she went into hiding for nearly 30 years. In this illuminating biography, East Asia scholar Demery interweaves the story of her efforts to connect with her reclusive subject with the dramatic tale of Nhu's volatile life. The Dragon Lady ultimately granted Demery unprecedented access, going so far as to entrust the journalist with her unpublished memoirs. Without condoning Nhu's actions, Demery admits that she eventually came to respect her as 'a staggeringly beautiful, proud, willful... woman' who refused to be constrained by the men in her life. The book adds little to the history of the Vietnam War, but it does shed light on one of the country's most controversial figures. Photos, map, and time line. Agent: Lindsay Edgecombe, Levine Greenberg Literary Associates. (Sept. 24)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Smart and well-researched, Demery's biography offers insight into both an intriguing figure and the complicated historical moment with which she became eternally identified. A welcome addition to the literature on Vietnam.” Kirkus Reviews
The book restores Madame Nhu to her proper place in history, as a ruthless and brilliant woman without whose manipulations the war in Vietnam might have turned out very differently
this frequently surprising book brings its subject back from exile.” Booklist online
Deeply intriguing...one hell of a story.” Daily Beast
Finding the Dragon Lady stands out from most biographies of political leaders: It emphasizes, rather than conceals, the competing narratives of an unreliable and manipulative subject
.It was ultimately Demery's candid way of writing and structuring her biography that won her the battle with her subject. Her book reveals the many masks Madame Nhu wore to guard herself against the public (and even the author), and gives stark glimpses of the woman underneath.” Alexia Nader, Kirkus Reviews
A young woman's quest to find the infamous former first lady of South Vietnam becomes a fascinating exploration of image and reality, truth and fiction, and the confusions and self-delusions of the Vietnam War itself.
A quest for one of history's most controversial figures the woman, known everywhere in her day as the Dragon Lady, who was a lightning rod for America's toxic involvement in Vietnam.
She was the beautiful but diabolic sex dictatress” according to the journalist David Halberstam; "everything Jack found unattractive” in the words of Jacqueline Kennedy; the most dangerous enemy a man can have” in Malcolm Browne's view; and everywhere in the media in the 1960s she was the Dragon Lady.” Monique Demery's search for the woman behind all the epithets, claims, and counterclaims a woman who had been living in exile and seclusion for thirty years began on the streets of Paris and deepened when she began a relationship with, and was entrusted with the unpublished memoirs of, Tran Le Xuan, otherwise known as Madame Nhu, the First Lady of the doomed republic of South Vietnam.
Madame Nhu's diminutive beauty cannot obscure her pivotal role in one of American history's darkest moments: she was much of the reason that the United States made the fateful decision to get rid of the ruling Ngo family. Demery investigates the reality behind the myth, giving us a deeper look at the woman who was feared and despised by so much of the world, one of the most memorable figures of the entire Vietnam War.
About the Author
Monique Brinson Demery took her first trip to Vietnam in 1997 as part of a study abroad program with Hobart and William Smith Colleges. She was the recipient of a US Department of Education grant to attend the Vietnamese Advanced Summer Institute in Hanoi, and in 2003, she received a Masters degree in East Asia Regional Studies from Harvard University. Demery's initial interviews with Madame Nhu in 2005 were the first that she had given to any Westerner in nearly twenty years. Demery lives in Chicago, Illinois.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
Chapter 1: Paris, 2005
Chapter 2: Murder
Chapter 3: Family and Glory
Chapter 4: Young Lady in Hanoi
Chapter 5: First Phone Call
Chapter 6: The Capture
Chapter 7: Dalat
Chapter 8: Miracle Men
Chapter 9: First Lady
Chapter 10: Tiger Skins
Chapter 11: Press
Chapter 12: Buddhists
Chapter 13: New York, 1963
Chapter 14: Washington, 1963
Chapter 15: November Coup
Chapter 16: The End