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Family of Fallen Leaves

Stories of Agent Orange by Vietnamese Writers

Charles Waugh

Publication Year: 2010

This collection of twelve short stories and one essay by Vietnamese writers reveals the tragic legacy of Agent Orange and raises troubling moral questions about the physical, spiritual, and environmental consequences of war.
Between 1962 and 1971, the U.S. military sprayed approximately twenty million gallons of Agent Orange and other chemical defoliants on Vietnam and Laos, exposing combatants and civilians from both sides to the deadly contaminant dioxin. Many of the exposed, and later their children, suffered from ailments including diabetes, cancer, and birth defects.
This remarkably diverse collection represents a body of work published after the early 1980s that stirred sympathy and indignation in Vietnam, pressuring the Vietnamese government for support. “Thirteen Harbors” intertwines a woman’s love for a dioxin victim with ancient Cham legend and Vietnamese folk wisdom. “A Child, a Man” explores how our fates are bound with those of our neighbors. In “The Goat Horn Bell” and “Grace,” families are devastated to find the damage from Agent Orange passed to their newborn children. Eleven of the pieces appear in English for the first time, including an essay by Minh Chuyen, whose journalism helped publicize the Agent Orange victims’ plight.
The stories in Family of Fallen Leaves are harrowing yet transformative in their ability to make us identify with the other.

Published by: University of Georgia Press


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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiv

One evening in April 1973 when it was announced that the last American combat troops had left Vietnam, I remember sitting on the porch of the farmhouse that my wife and I rented near Penn State University, where I had been hired to teach after returning from the war. Sitting next to me was Bui Ngoc Huong, who, after ...

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pp. xv-xviii

We have titled this collection Family of Fallen Leaves to evoke the main themes found in all the narratives: family, the interconnectedness of all living things, and of course, defoliation. Despite these common threads, the narratives remain surprisingly varied, each adding some element all the more poignant for its unpredictability. ...

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pp. xix

The editors would like to thank all the writers whose work has been translated here, as well as the many others whose assistance was integral to producing this book. We would also like to thank the Rockefeller Foundation and the William Joiner Center, whose support for this project helped get it off the ground. Finally, our deepest ...

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pp. 1-16

Between August 10, 1961, and January 7, 1971, the United States military sprayed approximately 20 million gallons of chemical defoliants on roughly 6,000 square miles of Vietnam's jungles, croplands, and waterways, exposing millions of people to the defoliants' toxic byproduct, dioxin. Many of those sprayed directly were poor, rural ...

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A Child, A Man

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pp. 17-30

Late in the afternoon, Tu rode his bicycle home slowly, enjoying the golden light. With his three children gone to the countryside to live with their grandmother for the summer, Tu felt like a free man. He pushed the bicycle up the rear steps to the kitchen of his top-floor apartment, and when he heard his wife speaking with someone in ...

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Thirteen Harbors

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pp. 31-49

I took a new wife for my husband. Maybe the strangest thing ever to happen at Yen Ha village, I chose my good friend to be the bride, a woman who had passed the age for marriage but for a long time had desired a child and wanted a husband. Besides making the match, I helped my husband's sister ...

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The Goat Horn Bell

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pp. 50-58

It took more than half their lives just to meet each other again. Perhaps it was not uncommon. After a twenty-one gun salute, thousands of husbands and wives reunited after decades of separation. Husband in the North, wife in the South, husband in an American prison and wife waiting somewhere outside, from in the jungles and under the ...

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pp. 59-67

was researching an essay about Tet for a magazine when my Aunt Thao came to see me. With her eyes swollen and face pale, it seemed like she'd been up all night. "What's wrong, Auntie? How are Duyen and Mung?" Aunt Thao covered her face with her hands and wept. "I don't know what to do. You have to help me." ...

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A Dream

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pp. 68-72

One year after the Liberation of the South, Cuong finally returned to his village from military service. A year was a long time for his family to wait, even for everyone in the village, but what they did not know was that Cuong had spent that year in a military hospital. On the very last day of the war, as Cuong and his unit marched to ...

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The Story of a Family

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pp. 73-84

The staff at the hospital all said Khang was a man deeply in love with his wife. Everyone was impressed with how he cared for Tra during her long, six-month recovery, and the female medical students in particular enjoyed telling the couple's romantic love story. He was a young man from Da Nang who had moved to the North in '66 ...

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Thay Phung

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pp. 85-95

Shabby and strange in strength and appearance, more than anything else Thay* Phung looked like a hollow peanut shell. His small frame measured less than five feet and under ninety pounds. Worse still, he often wore a broad-brimmed conical hat pulled down low on his overly large head, and his short legs splayed like a Chinese eight: ...

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Love Forest

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pp. 96-104

The news of Thinh's death from the Americans' toxic chemical poisoning, delivered by phone by the old h15 guys, knocked K'sor H'Guonl for a loop. For many years H'Guonl had kept living because of her love for Thinh. Now that he was dead, she dreamed of him every night. She dreamt that Thinh was holding her, and just as her lips ...

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The Spirit Pond

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pp. 105-119

The girl who helped with my cooking and cleaning looked anxious when she opened the gate and said hello. "Maybe something serious has happened with your family," she said. "Your uncle has phoned so many times, and he just called again. He said if I saw you come home from work to tell you you"ve got to go out there as soon as ...

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A Father and His Children

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pp. 120-133

As a reporter for a newspaper in Nam Dinh Province, I was sent to visit Tran Van Ngo's family at seventh hamlet, Quang Minh Commune, to gather materials for a survey on the poor condition of veterans and their families who suffered illnesses caused by the war. Mr. Ngo came back from the war thirty years ago. Nineteen years ...

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The Blood of Leaves

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pp. 134-146

His pinched voice sounded like it came from hell. Surprised, I looked around, but there was only me and Huan in the bar. We sat on the low stools toward the back, near the rattan wall. He looked at me through a glass of coffee, one of the green ferns that hung from every rafter in the ceiling swaying above him. I laughed. "Someone like you could live through ...

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The Quiet Poplar

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pp. 147-160

Any time the stress of the office got to be too much, Bich Tra would turn to her window on the eighth floor to gaze down at the city below. Whether mist enshrouded dawn or late afternoon sun, she always found something within her view to impress her; the streets, trees, and river reminding her of beautiful paintings. Each set of roofs ...

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Le Cao Dai and the Agent Orange Sufferers

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pp. 161-172

A graduate of the Viet Nam Medical University operating in the jungle from 1947 to 1953 during the war of resistance against France, Le Cao Dai helped to establish Military Hospital 211 in the Central Highlands during the American War, serving as its first director from 1964 to 1969. He lived and worked in the A Sau and A Luoi ...


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pp. 173-177


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pp. 178-179


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pp. 180-181

E-ISBN-13: 9780820337494
E-ISBN-10: 0820337498
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820336008
Print-ISBN-10: 0820336009

Page Count: 164
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Vietnamese literature -- 20th century -- Translations into English.
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Chemical warfare -- Literary collections.
  • Herbicides -- War use -- Literary collections.
  • Agent Orange -- Literary collections.
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