My most recently published novel, Last of the Annamese, came out in 2017. It tells the story of the fall of Saigon. As critics have noted, it’s fiction in name only. Everything related in the book really did happen. Even the love story is based on a real relationship I knew of. The characters are all based on amalgams of real people who lived through the catastrophe and the decisions they made about what they would do, including whether they would survive. It is the most true-to-life of all my books and stories.
I always get questions about the title: what does “Annamese” mean? It comes from one of the previous names for Vietnam, An Nam. Whereas “Viet Nam” is based on the Chinese meaning “troublemakers in the south,” “An Nam” comes from the words meaning “peace in the south.” One of the principal characters in the book, a South Vietnamese Marine colonel, dislikes being considered a troublemaker, so he prefers the name An Nam.
The book’s protagonist, Chuck Griffin, is a retired Marine who fought in Vietnam. He returns after the withdrawal of U.S. troops because he wants Americans to win the war. His son, Ben, died in the war, and Chuck can’t tolerate the idea that his son’s sacrifice was in vain. During the visit of an American delegation, Chuck learns that his son did not die in combat. Another soldier murdered him following exchanges with strong homosexual overtones. Chuck’s reason for going back to Vietnam is now meaningless. As Chuck watches denial of U.S officials, led by the ambassador, that Vietnam is about to fall to the communists, his disillusionment is complete.
I wrote the novel for two reasons. One was that I wanted the story of what really happened during the fall of Saigon to be told. Few Americans know the details of that tragedy or how it came to pass. The other reason was to vent my own soul. The unspeakable happenings during the fall were festering inside of me, contributing to my Port-Traumatic Stress Injury. I needed to bring to the surface all those memories tormenting me. I had to face them, to make them public.
Annamese is my most successful book so far. Many readers who were in Vietnam or lived there through the last few months before Saigon fell have contacted me to express their thanks to me for telling the story of what happened at the end. And Thurston Clarke, in his Honorable Exit (Doubleday, 2019), relates some of the same events told in Annamese. Readers and I, together, have found some measure of peace in putting the story of the fall of Saigon to rest.
More next time.