Finding the Dragon Lady: The Mystery of Vietnam’s Madame Nhu

Monique Brinson Demery. PublicAffairs, $26.99 (280p) ISBN 978-1-61039-281-5
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Madame Nhu (born Tran Le Xuan) was a notorious personage in South Vietnam during the late 1950s and early ’60s. The surrogate First Lady of the repressive government (headed by her husband’s bachelor brother, Ngo Dinh Diem) was vocal about her love of power and infamous for her fierce authoritarianism (she once mocked a Buddhist monk who had set himself on fire in protest of Diem’s regime by saying she would “clap her hands for another monk’s barbecue”). Her incendiary rhetoric earned her the nickname “the Dragon Lady.” Yet after her husband and brother-in-law were assassinated during the U.S.-backed military coup of 1963, she went into hiding for nearly 30 years. In this illuminating biography, East Asia scholar Demery interweaves the story of her efforts to connect with her reclusive subject with the dramatic tale of Nhu’s volatile life. The Dragon Lady ultimately granted Demery unprecedented access, going so far as to entrust the journalist with her unpublished memoirs. Without condoning Nhu’s actions, Demery admits that she eventually came to respect her as “a staggeringly beautiful, proud, willful... woman” who refused to be constrained by the men in her life. The book adds little to the history of the Vietnam War, but it does shed light on one of the country’s most controversial figures. Photos, map, and time line. Agent: Lindsay Edgecombe, Levine Greenberg Literary Associates. (Sept. 24)
Reviewed on: 07/15/2013
Release date: 09/01/2013
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 280 pages - 978-1-61039-282-2
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