(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

The Land I Lost is probably not an autobiography, although the copy on the dust jacket claims that the stories are true. In his introduction, the author says that he was born in a small village in the central highlands of Vietnam, but biographical data states that he was born in My Tho, a major town in the northern Mekong delta, thirty-five miles southwest of Saigon and with a population of more than forty thousand in 1962. My Tho was founded by Chinese refugees in the seventeenth century and became a garrison town and center for rice milling and distribution during the French colonial period. While Nhuong may have had relatives in the countryside who were farmers, his father, Huynh Miu Van, is a teacher.

The culture Nhuong portrays in The Land I Lost is not a highland montagnard culture but the Sino-Vietnamese culture of the lowlands. The lowlanders grow rice in flooded paddies; the montagnards practice slash-and-burn agriculture. They clear fields on the sides of mountains by burning the trees and grow rice dry, like Western farmers grow wheat. They move every three to five years and clear new fields because the monsoon rains destroy their fields’ fertility. While the tribal members in the central highlands have recently (from the 1850’s) migrated south from China, they are much less influenced by Chinese culture than lowland Vietnamese people and are much less developed culturally; they have a tribal structure and worship the spirits living in rocks and trees, while the burial practices portrayed in the book are Confucian (Chinese).


(The entire section is 656 words.)