When Heaven and Earth Changed Places Summary

Summary (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

When Heaven and Earth Changed Places: A Vietnamese Woman’s Journey from War to Peace, co-written with Jay Wurts, recounts Le Ly Hayslip’s life in war-ravaged Vietnam, her emigration to the United States in 1970, and her dangerous return visit to her homeland in 1986. As a young girl, Phung Thi Le Ly (her name before marriage) promises her father, a devote Buddhist farmer, that she will become a woman warrior. She interprets that charge to mean that she must stay alive in order to nurture other life and preserve her ancestral heritage. The memoir is her means of fulfilling that responsibility. She nevertheless offends her family by her presumed betrayal by marriage to an American civilian contractor and flight from Vietnam to join him in California. The autobiography is her tribute to her ancestral traditions and her testimony that she has not forsaken them.

Le Ly’s loyalties shift throughout her autobiography. Like most peasants in her village on the border between North and South Vietnam, she supports the Viet Cong against the republican government and its American backers. She performs many daring acts to advance the Communist cause, but the Viet Cong wrongly suspect her of collaborating with the South. She evades their deadly reprisals by fleeing to Danang and, later, Saigon. There she pins her hope for a better life onto the American servicemen she comes to know as she struggles to support her illegitimate son and other family members...

(The entire section is 433 words.)