The Sacred Willow

A genuine multi-generational saga of fascinating scope and haunting detail, The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family shows how history has affected one large, well-educated, and idealistic Vietnamese family. Beginning before French colonization, Duong Van Mai Elliott traces trials and triumphs of her family up to her own generation. Born in 1941 during the Japanese occupation, she would move from North to South Vietnam all the way to America, influenced by the war shaking her country.

Beautifully written, The Sacred Willow offers fresh views of a country and its people. Luck and serious studies raise great-grandfather Duong Lam from poverty to the top. Their new rank brings the Duong family into a working relationship with the French, who colonize Vietnam by 1888.

After World War II, The Sacred Willow shows the inner divisions of a people. Initially, because of his uncompromising opposition to the French, many members of the traditional Duong family embrace Ho Chi Minh. As they become disillusioned with his Communism, most move South. Yet among the twelve surviving children, Mai’s sister Phu joins the Communists, while Mai herself studies and marries in America and returns to interrogate Communist prisoners. Her book continues to chronicle events as they unfold up to the end of the twentieth century.

Turning the last page of The Sacred Willow can feel like leaving behind a host of new friends and foes in an intimately described new country. The bravery and resilience of Mai Elliott and her family make for a fascinating reading experience.