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238Fourth Genre The House on Dream Street: Memoir of an American Woman in Vietnam by Dana Sachs Algonquin Books, 2000 368 pages, cloth, $22.95 Dana Sachs first encounteredVietnam when she was twenty years old traveling with a friend through Asia. She immediately feU in love withVietnam, believing her soul reserved itself for that country: "When I went there it became alive again. And when I left, it retreated." As a seasoned journaUst, Dana Sachs knows about fine language, detaüs, and holding a reader's attention. She writes with a spirit of adventure and an honest trepidation. She is not naive about what Hanoi represents for many Americans. Though Sachs had no connection to the war other than the MIA bracelet she wore throughout her school years, she is weU aware of the leftover tensions between our two countries. When Sachs encounters conversations about the war, a palpable tension rises from the page. "Americans don't know anything about the war," aVietnamese acquaintance says to her over noodle soup. "You haven't had a war in your country in over one hundred years. Two miUionVietnamese died as opposed to your 58,000, and you bombed us, we never bombed you."The energy ofthis book lies in this juxtaposition of antagonism and understanding, the study ofhow enemies become friends eating dinner together. Sachs never turns people into symbols. She forces us to look more closely at a place and a people many Americans once feared. Her story builds vignette by vignette, tracing how she creates a fife in Hanoi where she barely speaks the language and people stare at her constantly. She portrays the red Ho Chi Minh banners that sit nearly hidden among the bfllboards for Coca Cola andToshiba. She evokes the simultaneous explosion of miUions of firecrackers heralding the future at a Tet celebration. She describes her growing friendship with Tra, Huong, and Phai, how they'd sit together in small Uving rooms discussing the birth of a chfld or squat in kitchens cutting up vegetables. She focuses on the famiUar strain between children and parents, husbands and wives, and the government and people. Most poignantly, readers witness Sachs's love for Phai, a man to whom she must explain the basic facts of biology and with whom she shares passion. Theirs is what theVietnamese caU quy, or a precious relationship. Just above their Uves linger the repressiveVietnamese laws about foreigners and the cultural stereotypes in the United States. Sachs recognizes also that their educational differences will eventuaUy make this relationship hard to maintain. Book Reviews239 To Uve in Hanoi, Sachs must wrestle with what the Vietnamese caU the American War. "Put two Americans inVietnam and they inevitably end up discussing history like a ghost that haunts the conversation," she writes. Despite its lovely title, A House on Dream Street is about the enormous transition from being enemies to negotiating friendship. How strange it is to wander the streets ofa place that once held the infamous Hanoi Hilton with its tortured American soldiers inside. How curious, but difficult, to see the real city that we bombed to destruction. An old veteran takes Sachs into his confidence to say that he was the soldier who rescued the drowning Senator John McCain after his plane crashed. At first Sachs automaticaUy feels that she has to apologize. Reading this passage, I couldn't help but find the veteran manipulative, and I remembered tortured American soldiers blinking out the word torture in Morse code, an image Sachs omits. Instead, she focuses on the veteran. "It doesn't matter," he says, waving his hand as though they were talking about an old mistake long since forgotten. AU he wants now, he says, is for her to write McCain for permission to come to the United States for business purposes. "Americans are famous aU over the world—cars, bluejeans, hamburgers," aVietnamese coUeague says to her. "And what are we famous for? War!" He says it was a relief to watch the GulfWar on TV Uke the rest of the world. In one particularly strained moment Sachs complains about theVietnamese throwing gum wrappers on the ground. "Americans—" her friendVan says, "you think you can tell...


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pp. 238-239
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