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A Bend In The River
In 1968 two young Vietnamese sisters flee to Saigon after their village on the Mekong River is attacked by American forces and burned to the ground. The only survivors of the brutal massacre that killed their family, the sisters struggle to survive but become estranged, separated by sharply different choices and ideologies. Mai ekes out a living as a GI bar girl, but Tam’s anger festers, and she heads into jungle terrain to fight with the Viet Cong. For nearly ten years, neither sister knows if the other is alive. Do they both survive the war? And if they do, can they mend their fractured relationship? Or are the wounds from the paths they took too deep to heal? In a stunning departure from her crime thrillers, Libby Fischer Hellmann delves into a universal story about survival, family, and the consequences of war.
Reviews
Set during the Vietnam War and its aftermath, this gripping historical from Hellman (Havana Lost) focuses on the divergent paths of two Vietnamese sisters. One day in 1968, 17-year-old Tâm and her 14-year-old sister, Mai, watch from their jungle hiding place as their family is killed by U.S. soldiers and their village is razed. The sole survivors of the massacre, the sisters steal a boat and make their way to Saigon, where they live in a refugee camp that Tâm describes as “one step from hell.” At this point, the sisters part ways: Mai becomes a hostess at the Stardust Lounge and begins dating an American officer, while Tâm is recruited by the Viet Cong. After Mai becomes pregnant, she loses her job, her apartment, and her boyfriend and is left feeling “cast adrift in a world at war.” Meanwhile, Tâm channels her anger over the massacre into fighting, and Hellmann renders the combat scenes in vivid detail. The end of the war and the women’s subsequent arrival in the United States doesn’t make their lives any less perilous. Hellmann smoothly integrates into her harrowing narrative such aspects of the conflict as guerilla warfare, spying, Agent Orange, reeducation camps, and boat people. This passionate story of survival has staying power. (Self-published)

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