Those Who Stayed Behind

Several characters in Last of the Annamese choose not to be evacuated during the fall of Saigon. They decide to stay behind and face the North Vietnamese.

One is Mother Monique, the superior of the nuns that operate the orphanage at Cité Paul-Marie, a Catholic chapel in Saigon. She arranges for her subordinate sisters and all the orphans—mostly Amerasian, fathered by American GIs with Vietnamese women—to depart Vietnam as part of Operation Babylift, an effort launched by President Ford to save orphans before the North Vietnamese completed their conquest of South Vietnam.

Why did Monique stay behind to face the North Vietnamese? The reader doesn’t know, but I do. Monique is from of an upper-class family which fled North Vietnam after the signing of the Geneva agreement that divided Vietnam. She despises the Viet Cong, which she still refers to as the Viet Minh. As a young woman, she joined the convent responding to a calling she felt deep within her to devote her life to helping others. Partly because of her devotion to her vocation and partly due to her aristocratic roots, she was chosen to head the orphanage at Cité Paul-Marie. She shares with Tuyet, the principal female character in the novel, a preference for speaking French rather than Vietnamese because she grew up speaking it.

Now in her fifties, Monique feels within herself a strong bond to her native land. She knows she must not flee. She must stay and confront the North Vietnamese when they take Saigon. As an aristocrat and speaker of French, she knows that the Communists will be brutal to her. But if she is to be true to herself and her lineage, she must not run away.

I don’t know whether the North Vietnamese execute Monique outright or send her to one of the so-called “reeducation camps”—really prison or concentration camps—but I’m sure she did not survive long. I’m sure she dies at peace because she was faithful to her calling.

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