Synopses & Reviews
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 wars ceaseless fury.
The American officer who discovered the diary soon after Dr. Trams 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, “Dont 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. Trams 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 nations 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 womans 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.
"'In 1970, while sifting through war documents in Vietnam, Fred Whitehurst, an American lawyer serving with a military intelligence dispatch, found a diary no bigger than a pack of cigarettes, its pages handsewn together. Written between 1968 and '70 by Tram, a young, passionate doctor who served on the front lines, it chronicled the strife she witnessed until the day she was shot by American soldiers earlier that year at age 27. Whitehurst, who was greatly moved by the diary and smuggled it out of the country, returned it to Thuy's family in 2005; soon after, it was published as a book in Vietnam, selling nearly half a million copies within a year and a half. The diary is valuable for the perspective it offers on war Thuy is not obsessed with military maneuvers but rather the damage, both physical and emotional, that the war is inflicting on her country. Thuy also speaks poignantly about her patients and the compassion she feels for them. Unfortunately, the writing, composed largely of breathless questions and exclamations, is monotonous at times, somewhat diminishing the book's power. (Sept.)' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
Born in Hanoi, DANG THUY TRAM was a Vietnamese doctor who tended civilians as well as Viet Cong soldiers. She died in 1970 at the age of twenty-seven. To learn more about Dang Thuy Tram and how her diary came to be published, visit www.ThuyTram.com.
Andrew X. Pham is the author of Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam and the forthcoming The Eaves of Heaven: A Life in Three Wars. He is the recipient of the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Prize.
Reading Group Guide
Last Night I Dreamed of Peace is the diary of Dr. Dang Thuy Tram, a twenty-seven-year-old Viet Cong doctor serving in a field hospital during the Vietnam War. She penned these entries under extreme duress, writing in battle trenches, bomb shelters, triages, and wards filled with dying patients. Through her words, the destruction, hunger, and trauma that she lived with comes to vivid life. But her diary is more than a record of the war-it is the record of a young woman in extraordinary circumstances who sacrificed her life for her ideals. Saved from the fire of war by an American soldier, her diary provides us with a rare glimpse at an aspect of an enemy we rarely see or consider-her humanity. This guide is a starting point for your discussion of Thuy Trams remarkable diary.
1. Based on her own account of her life, what kind of person do you think Dang Thuy Tram was? How would you describe her character?
2. How much do you know about the Vietnam War? What was the mood of the country during the U.S. involvement? Discuss your personal experiences or memories of life during the war. How do you think this diary would have been received in America at the wars end? How might this diary be controversial even now, more than thirty years after the wars end?
3. Like Dang Thuy Trams diary, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl was published after the wartime death of its author. Now a classic, Anne Franks diary is a moving testament to a young girls hopeful spirit and faith in humanity as well as a glimpse of a life very different from our own. How do you think Last Night I Dreamed of Peace compares? Do you think this diary has the same kind of cultural relevance?
4. What special challenges does a translator face when working on a personal diary?
5. Discuss the universal losses of war. In any war, what do both armies have in common?
6. Thuy often speaks of a man she calls M. in her diary. She wills herself to forget him and devote herself more fully to the Communist party. Is she successful? How does Thuy respond to sympathy over her unrequited love for him?
7. Reread the entry from April 30, 1968, in which Thuy counts her blessings. What do her words reveal about her? Which do you think Thuy wants more, love for herself or freedom for Vietnam?
8. Why is gaining membership in the Communist party so important to Thuy? Why does she think she has been unable to get in? How does she feel when she is finally admitted?
9. Is Thuy a pessimist or an optimist? A romantic or a realist? Do you think she would agree with your accessment?
10. Discuss Thuys life at the clinic. What are the joys? The sorrows? The risks? What makes her so committed to her patients? Do you think she is well suited to the dangers she faces there? Why or why not?
11. How is Thuy a typical young woman? What makes her seem older than her years? Discuss the effects of war on innocence.
12. Thuy often speaks of her important friendships with both men and women, even calling those closest to her Little Brother or Big Sister. How might their living conditions and the long struggle contribute to the forming of such intense friendships?
13. Have you ever kept a diary? If so, why and when? Did you write it as if no one would ever see it, but you or were you conscious, on some level, of a future reader. Does anything in Thuys tone suggest her awareness of a reader other than herself? What did you think of her writing style in general? Were there any passages that seemed particularly evocative to you?
14. Discuss the entry from June 20, 1970, the diarys last, in light of Thuys death two days later.
15. What are the lessons to be learned from Thuys diary? About humanity? About war? About love and courage?