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Bookmarks Issue: 
36-Sept-Oct-2008
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A-The Eaves of HeavenAndrew X. Pham’s first book, Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam, told the story of his life. Now, Pham turns to his father’s story.

The Topic: In his childhood, Thong Van Pham (the author’s father) was set to inherit his family’s substantial holdings in northern Vietnam. But the three wars of this book’s title—the Vietminh resistance to the French colonial occupation of Vietnam, the Japanese invasion during World War II, and the series of conflicts Americans know as the Vietnam War—forced him to carve a new life out of the pieces of the old. Pham illustrates Thong’s difficult transformation by interspersing Thong’s bucolic childhood stories with his bitter memories of war. Pham’s book provides a personal guide to the complex history of Vietnam in the 20th century, while also reminding readers that most of life’s essence won’t be found in the outlines of battles won and lost.
Harmony. 302 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 030738120X

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The Eaves of Heaven is a work of radiance. In some ways, it resembles that supreme recollection of a world lost to history’s depredations, Speak, Memory, in which Vladimir Nabokov summoned up his pre-revolutionary Russian boyhood." Richard Eder

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Do we really need yet another Vietnam memoir? Yes, as it turns out. … Few books have combined the historical scope and the literary skill to give the foreign reader a sense of events from a Vietnamese perspective." Matt Steinglass

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"[Pham] understands a memoir is not really about oneself but about a period, a time, a people. … As a memoir, The Eaves of Heaven accomplishes what few polemics do—it is a sweeping personal indictment of war, a reassuring and yet merciless affirmation of the human spirit." Rene Denfeld

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]his is not ultimately a story of loss and upheaval, nor is it simply a retelling of Vietnam’s war-torn history from a Vietnamese point of view. … The Eaves of Heaven is something entirely new: an effort to recapture the moments of beauty and transcendence that emerged from these events." Martha Sherrill

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The contrapuntal composition creates a surprising and pleasing rhythm and reminds us that memory is neither linear nor sequential. … Here is war and life through the eyes of a Vietnamese everyman: Although buffeted by many circumstances beyond his control, Thong Van Pham never loses his basic humanity or love of family." David Takami

Critical Summary

All critics agreed that The Eaves of Heaven, written in short, eloquent vignettes that move back and forth in time, is one of the best memoirs of this period in Vietnam’s history written from the Vietnamese point of view. Indeed, it offers a much-needed perspective in the United States, which often thinks of "Vietnam" as a painful episode in its own history rather than another nation’s. But some reviewers, impressed by Pham’s ability to write in his father’s voice without sentimentality, went even further. They called The Eaves of Heaven a classic among memoirs and compared it with classic texts that address the timeless themes of violence and war. The Eaves of Heaven is a book that will greatly appeal to a wide variety of readers.

Also by the Author

A-Catfish and MandalaCatfish and Mandala A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam (1999): Award Star Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize. Here, Pham explores his Vietnamese upbringing, his family’s experience during the Vietnam War and their journey to California as boat people, and his return to Vietnam two decades later as a culturally questioning young man.