Since a flea market is coming up in which I’ll be hawking and autographing my books, I decided it would be a good idea to do a blog post on each of them. I start with Last of the Annamese.
The book has been awarded more prizes than any of my other books. It tells, in fictionalized form, the story of my escape under fire when Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese invaders on April 29, 1975. Another writer, Stephen Phillips, called the book a proverbial bookend companion to Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. Like all my books and stories, Annamese is fiction in name only—every event described really did happen.
The name of the book comes from an alternate name for Vietnam, An Nam. Many centuries ago, when the tribe that eventually became known as the Vietnamese resided in southern China, the Chinese derisively named them the yueh nán (越南)—which in the language that tribe spoke became Việt Nam. It means those who cross over to the south or the troublemakers in the south. Over the centuries, after the Vietnamese travelled south into what we now call Vietnam and established their own state, they went by many different names. One of those was “An Nam,” which means “peace in the south.”
One of the principal characters in the book, South Vietnamese Marine Colonel Thanh, doesn’t like being called a troublemaker in the south, so he uses the name An Nam for his country. A person from An Nam is called (in English) an Annamese. Hence the book’s title. Which of the book’s characters is the last Annamese is up to the reader to decide.