Fiction in Name Only

As one review of Last of the Annamese wisely notes, the novel, set during the fall of Saigon which I survived, is fiction in name only. Today I want to simply quote without comment from the novel—in support of that review’s assertion but mainly to tell what happened:

The Embassy, always marked by the lilt of southern hospitality, developed an uneasy edge. Ike’s men [Marine guards] felt the change. The boyish horse-play faded. The snuffs kept their weapons cleaned and oiled, never more than an arm’s reach away. They asked Ike what was happening. He shrugged. The Ambassador, a gentleman under all circumstances, continued to preside with grace and good breeding.

In dinner table talk, Sparky and Chuck reported daily disasters. On Saturday, the Saigon police apparently panicked and shot to death a French journalist. Sunday night, shaken, Chuck said that President Thieu had ordered the evacuation of the highlands. The North Vietnamese had blocked National Route 19, the direct road to the coast, so more than twenty infantry battalions and ranger groups, three arty battalions, a tank battalion, an engineer group, and a support group had all started down Interprovincial Route 7B, not much more than a trail. It was overgrown with brush, and its fords and bridges were impassable. By Monday night, panicking civilians, a hundred thousand of them, swamped Route 7B, bogging down the troops, while the North Vietnamese attacked from all sides. Already people were calling it “the trail of blood and tears.” Meanwhile, cities were falling in the northern provinces, south of the DMZ, and the royal city of Huế was under siege. Its citadel had been struck by artillery.

Molly showed up at the villa the following Saturday night with a suitcase. “It’s my getaway bag,” she told Ike, “in case I’m here when the end comes. Got another bag at the dispensary and one at the apartment.” In her other hand she carried a clothes hanger with a full-length purple dress. “That’s the color of the priest’s vestments during Lent. Tomorrow’s Palm Sunday, and I want to fit in, you know, look properly dismal.”


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