Characters in Last of the Annamese: South Vietnamese Marine Colonel Pham Ngoc Thanh

Like other characters in Last of the Annamese, Colonel Thanh turns out to be a composite. He is a mix of South Vietnamese officers I knew in Vietnam. I didn’t create him at the conscious level; he came to my imagination fully formed, and, as I got to know him, he slowly revealed his complex history. He is a monk turned soldier and charismatic leader ready to sacrifice himself for his fellow man or his country.

Thanh surprised me with the choices he made during the writing of Last of the Annamese. Already in a failed marriage from which society will not allow him to escape, he accepts his wife’s infidelity, and, toward the end of the story, delivers his son, Thu, into the care of the man who is sleeping with his wife. He tries valiantly and fails to persuade the U.S. to return to Vietnam to keep South Vietnam from falling to the Communist North. Despite serious wounds, he continues to comfort his fellow Vietnamese and prepare them for the end of the country.

Tomorrow, I’ll post a quote from Annamese that to me seems to sum up Thanh, the man, the ascetic, and the leader.

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