I’ve written in this blog about the South Vietnamese Marine Colonel Thanh, one of the three principal characters in Last of the Annamese. Reviewers of the book and ordinary readers are more taken with Thanh than with the other characters.
Maybe there’s justice in that. Thanh is really the soul of the story. He insists that he Annamese, not Vietnamese—native to the core of his people, better described as peace makers (from An Nam, “peace in the south”) than troublemakers (from Viet Nam, “troublemakers in the south”). He is the shaper of the tale, the man who stands serene as his country crumbles about him.
I can’t claim the credit for inventing Thanh. He came to me, as all my characters do, fully formed. At first he kept parts of himself hidden from me. He allowed me to know his history as a monk, then a warrior, slowly as I wrote about him. When I wanted him to be angry with Tuyet for her betrayal, he instead found peace from within himself. When I tried to write him as showing strength after the fall of Phuoc Binh, he became despondent, then had to restore himself to greater strength through his own internal harmony.
As irrational as it sounds, I don’t feel like I created Thanh. Rather, he revealed himself to me at his own pace and in his own way. He is a far greater man than I could ever hope to be. And he is more real to me than most of the men I know.