The boy-child is a recurring theme in Last of the Annamese. In the prologue, a little boy dies. Later the reader learns that the protagonist, Chuck Griffin, lost a son who was killed as a soldier in Vietnam. Throughout the story, Chuck goes to the orphanage at Cité-Paul-Marie to spend time with Philippe, a crippled Amerasian boy. The sisters at the orphanage gave Philippe his French name. They don’t tell Chuck his history or how he suffered the mutilations to his body.

And Chuck is utterly charmed by Thu, the six-year-old son of Tuyet and Thanh. Chuck plays with Thu in the little pool in Tuyet’s garden. He teaches Thu the word “buddy.”

In my mind, Chuck’s relationship to little boys, starting with his son, is the key to his character. He returns to Vietnam in 1973 as a civilian after he has retired from the Marine Corps because he is determined to do all he can to win the war—he can’t tolerate the thought that his son, Ben, died in vain.

Of all the principal characters in the book, only Chuck and Thu survive. One interpretation of the novel’s title, the one I prefer, is that it refers ultimately to Thu. He is the last of the Annamese.

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