Mourning Headband for Hue

Mourning Headband for Hue

An Account of the Battle for Hue, Vietnam 1968
Nha Ca
Translated with an Introduction by Olga Dror
Distribution: World
Publication date: 8/14/2014
Format: cloth 378 pages
6 x 9
ISBN: 978-0-253-01417-7
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Description

Bronze Winner, 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards, War & Military
2015 AAUP Public and Secondary School Library Selection
Vietnam, January, 1968. As the citizens of Hue are preparing to celebrate Tet, the start of the Lunar New Year, Nha Ca arrives in the city to attend her father’s funeral. Without warning, war erupts all around them, drastically changing or cutting short their lives. After a month of fighting, their beautiful city lies in ruins and thousands of people are dead. Mourning Headband for Hue tells the story of what happened during the fierce North Vietnamese offensive and is an unvarnished and riveting account of war as experienced by ordinary people caught up in the violence.

Author Bio

Nha Ca, meaning a "courteous, elegant song" or "canticle" in Vietnamese, is the penname of one of the most famous South Vietnamese writers of the second half of the 20th century, whose real name is Tran Thị Thu Van. She was born in Hue in 1939 and spent her youth there before moving to Saigon where she became a popular and prolific writer and poet. Initially her works focused on love but starting from the mid-1960s in many of her works she began to describe the fighting, atrocities, and suffering inflicted by the war that was ravaging her country. The most significant and famous of these works is Mourning Headband for Hue, which describes the experience of Vietnamese civilians in Hue during the Tet Offensive. This work was one of the winners of South Vietnam’s Presidential Literary Award. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, the Communist authorities put Nha Ca into a prison camp where she remained from 1976 to 1977. Her husband, the poet Tran Dạ Tu, was jailed for twelve years. In 1989, a year after he was released from prison, the couple and their family received political asylum from the Swedish government. Later they moved to the United States and now live in Southern California, where they publish the Vietnamese-language newspaper Viet Bao.

Born and raised in Leningrad, USSR, Olga Dror received an MA in Oriental studies from Leningrad State University in 1987 and later pursued an advanced degree from the Institute for Linguistic Studies in the Academy of Sciences, Moscow. She worked for Radio Moscow's Department of Broadcasting to Vietnam. In 1990 she immigrated to Israel, studied international relations at Hebrew University, and worked for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in its embassy in Riga, Latvia, from 1994 to 1996. She continued her study of Vietnam and earned a PhD from Cornell University in 2003. Now an associate professor of history at Texas A&M University, she is author of
Cult, Culture, and Authority: Princess Lieu Hanh in Vietnamese History and editor of two volumes on Vietnamese and Chinese religions. Her current research concerns the identities of Vietnamese children during the war in Vietnam.

Reviews

"The author’s narrative burns with firsthand accounts, her own and those of others who shared their stories, as they all were trapped in blasted houses, churches and makeshift shelters, wounded, starving, sick and overrun by the Communists and their squads of vengeful executioners...[A] searing first-person account of the misery of war visited upon her family, neighbors and countrymen, caught in senseless, chaotic horror...A visceral reminder of war’s intimate slaughter." —Kirkus Reviews

"Nha Ca relates countless moments of terror she and her extended family members suffered and shares stories told to her by others who faced similarly dire circumstances. It’s an intimate—and disturbing—account of war at its most brutal, told from the point of view of civilians trying to survive the maelstrom." —Publishers Weekly

"To this day, her harrowing account—of war casualties, searches and arrests, ideological purges—generates intense debates about accountability during war time." —Shelf Awareness

"...[A] searing eyewitness account...It makes for an intimate—and disturbing—account of war at its most brutal told from the point of view of civilians trying to survive the maelstrom." —VVA Veteran

"A superb piece of work. I have never encountered anything remotely like it in the voluminous literature on the Vietnam War. Nha Ca's voice is so powerfully immediate, and her caring determined eyes carefully guide the reader into the thick of a chaotic world painfully under siege. A wonderful testimonial history but also a great work of commemoration." —Heonik Kwon, University of Cambridge, author of Ghosts of War in Vietnam

"Mourning Headband for Hue is a personal account of what happened in Hue during the month-long occupation of parts of the city by communist troops during the 1968 Tet Offensive, a very bloody episode of the Vietnam War which inflicted extremely heavy losses on the civilian population in both human and material terms. Stranded in Hue where she had come to visit her family, the author found herself face-to-face with the war. . . . Horrified, she recounts her experiences day by day as if weeping and wailing in the remembrance of the atrocities she has seen and heard. It is indeed a book laden with blood, sweat, and tears, but records events without distorting them. With explanatory information on many persons and events provided by the translator, the book is a valuable document for the history of the Vietnam War." —Nguyen The Anh, Rector of Hue University at the time of the events described in this book, is professor emeritus, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris-Sorbonne, and author most recently of Vietnam: A Journey into History (in French)

"The stunning formal techniques the book employs to convey the horrors of [the Vietnam War] endow it with a measure of universal literary significance that lies outside the local arenas of Vietnamese politics and culture. . . . A Mourning Headband for Hue is, quite simply, a great piece of modernist war writing and it deserves to be read alongside All Quiet on the Western Front, Homage to Catalonia, Johnny Got His Gun, The Naked and the Dead, The Things They Carried, and Black Hawk Down." —Peter Zinoman, University of California Berkeley, author of Vietnamese Colonial Republican: The Political Vision of Vu Trong Phung

"In this searing and unsparing memoir, Nha Ca bears witness to the mindless violence against civilians in war. Her civilian focus is important: in all of the writing on the Vietnam War, too little has been written on the civilian experience of conflict, a conflict that profoundly shaped the lives of millions of Vietnamese. It is important that we read about this violence, and through first-hand accounts: the further we move away from the Vietnam War, and the more we clinically dissect the war in terms of high politics and military strategy, the less we seem to remember that the war, on the ground, could be vicious, brutal, and devastating. A Mourning Headband for Hue is an anguished testimonial to that reality." —Shawn F. McHale, George Washington University and author of Print and Power: Confucianism, Communism, and Buddhism in the Making of Modern Vietnam

"This is a worthy addition to accounts that help readers understand the Vietnam War. . . . Highly recommended." —Choice

"On the whole, scholars will find this memoir invaluable for understanding the American War in Vietnam as an internal civil war between the Vietnamese." —H-Net Reviews H-War

"In her translation of A Mourning Headband for Hue, Olga Dror has traversed the terrain of contemporary Vietnamese literature, selected a wonderful gem, Giải Khăn Sô Cho Huế by Nhã Ca, and made it accessible to an English readership. . . . It is simultaneously an account of the experience of civilians trapped in a city under siege and a literary response to the brutalities of war by a leading poet and writer of South Vietnam." —Journal of Vietnamese Studies

"Mourning Headband for Hue is Nhã Ca's searing condemnation of the brutality of war." —Michigan War Studies Review

"A work of great historical and literary value ideal for use in the classroom, Mourning Headband for Hue highlights overlooked voices and facets of the Vietnam War, meriting inclusion among the classics of wartime fiction." —Southeast Asian Studies

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Note on Translation
Translator's Introduction
Small Preface: Writing to Admit Guilt
1. First Hours
2. The Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer
3. Hodge-podge
4. On a Boat Trip
5. A Person from Tu Dam Comes Back and Tells His Story
6. Going Back into the Hell of the Fighting
7. Story from the Citadel
8. Returning to the Old House
9. A Dog in Midstream
10. Little Child of, Hue Little Child of Vietnam, I Wish You Luck!