The Nguyen Dynasty

Tuyet, the principal female character in Last of the Annamese, is a member of the Nguyen family, the dynasty that ruled Vietnam from 1802 to 1945. Much of that time, after the French annexation of Vietnam, starting in the middle of the 19th century, the family became more and more puppets of the French. The last emperor (Vuong in Vietnamese) of the Nguyen dynasty, Bao Dai, was the thirteenth of that family to nominally rule Vietnam. He abdicated in 1945, but his family continued to control great wealth. The clan, meanwhile, had become decidedly Francophile. Bao Dai himself spent most of his time in France (where he was educated), especially on the Riviera.

Tuyet, a close relative of Bao Dai, is a princess. She considers herself vastly superior to others, especially to her husband, Thanh, to whom she was given in marriage to bolster the faltering fortunes of her family. She grew up speaking French and had to learn first Vietnamese and then English to support her husband in his dealings with the Vietnamese government and the Americans.

The family name Nguyen is far and away the most common in Vietnam. My guess is fully half of the Vietnamese population use that name. Yet it is also the name of the last royal Vietnamese dynasty. The story of their corruption by the French and eventual defeat is in some respects an analogue for the history of Vietnam itself. Tuyet’s transformation during Last of the Annamese symbolizes the radical changes Vietnam itself underwent ending in the defeat of the Republic of Vietnam in 1975.

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