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Book Review: Postcards from Nam by Uyen Nicole Duong

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How does one recall images from a distant childhood in far off Vietnam? When hand drawn Postcards from Nam begin arriving in her mail from distant Saigon, they begin to haunt Mimi, a successful lawyer now living and practicing in the United States. In Postcards from Nam, she was one of the fortunate ones whose family had enough money and resources to escape South Vietnam during the last hours before it fell to the North.

But whence come the artistically drawn postcards, some in only blue and blood red ink? Some in black? And why do they portray moments in Mimi’s life that only a young boy, living in Thailand near her as a youth, could sketch with a minimum of lines using his imagination? Today, Saigon is thousands of miles away — a remembered world of suffering, evil, and sorrow. All of it was so long ago during killing war years when to stay alive was all that mattered.

In Postcards from Nam, determined to locate the sender, Mimi sets out on a course that will suck her deep into a horribly troubled past — not for her but for Nam. She ekes out memories from boat people near Saigon and from anyone else who aided her own family’s desperate flight. Through family and relatives, the portrait of an artistic young lad begins to take shape. Apparently during childhood Mimi fascinated Nam.

But who was this boy-now-man? And why does he still draw so beautifully? Why does he write her? If she finds him, even though he pens poetic notes to her along with his inked imagery, will his intense feelings remain? Thinking back, did she have longings for him?

Mimi learns that her postcard friend barely survived a lustful captivity on a pirate ship whose crew forced Nam to endure every depravity. Yet in spite of his repeated horrific suffering and near death experiences, she realizes that his artistic fervor remained alive. What happened to him? Had he been rescued at sea only to chose another lifestyle while continuing to send her the artistic postcard illustrations?

I would recommend Postcards from Nam for any reader who likes stories of unrequited love. But this tale is neither mushy nor trite. It will tear at your own heart as Mimi now hunts a grown man who always longed for her even during a pained troubled past. The story is short. No matter. It will fascinate you with its beauty, its simplicity and its unforgettable passion buried deep within the human heart.

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