Postcards from Nam
Author: Uyen Nicole Duong
Published By: Lake Union Publishing
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When I first received a chance to read Postcards from Nam, I wasn't quite sure what it was about. Without looking at the description, I figured it might be a collection of letters sent by soldiers to loved ones state-side while stationed in Vietnam. I have always had an incredible interest in the Vietnam War and have read a ton of books about the era, so I picked this one up. Little did I know that, while I got the idea right - there were letters and they had something to do with Vietnam - the premise was nothing like what I expected.
Postcards from Nam centers around a woman named Mimi. A Vietnamese immigrant who came to the United States in her teenage years, Mimi has worked hard and created a successful law career for herself. She barely thinks about her past in her native country until she begins receiving homemade postcards from Thailand featuring disturbing, yet beautiful artwork and the signature of someone name Nam.
At first, Mimi is confused as to why she would be receiving these postcards. She doesn't remember knowing anyone name Nam, although this person obviously knows her, making statements to her that seem familiar and speaking of things that only someone who knows Mimi would have a clue about. Suddenly, it hits her that she does know this person named Nam. Suppressed memories of her last days in pre-Communist Saigon and her escape from Vietnam come back in full force, causing Mimi to question why she had suppressed them in the first place and why Nam should decide to contact her now, after all these years.
Postcards from Nam is a novella and sequel of sorts to Mimi and Her Mirror. It was interesting to see what an individual can suppress when unwilling to deal with traumatic events that lead to a loss of some kind occur. Mimi, in an effort to forget the trauma of leaving her home in Vietnam and her grandmother (who refused to leave and eventually died), had suppressed the memory of a childhood friend who could have been so much more if things had turned out differently.
Mimi's feverish search for the truth about what happened to Nam and what he was trying to tell her through his postcards speaks of her guilt - at forgetting Nam, at forging a happy, successful life in America while he remained behind and suffered greatly. When we finally learn the full story of Nam, it is hard not to feel compassion for both of the war's victims. Mimi may have become a success in America, but she is still haunted by the nightmare of the evacuation and the loss of all she held dear in her youth. We also wonder at the event she alludes to that caused her to lose her shoes while running from her home to the evacuation site (I hear this is explained in Mimi and Her Mirror, so I will just have to read that book as well).
Uyen Nicole Duong's skill as a writer is excellent. She has the ability to drag the reader in, making him/her care about the characters in the book, wishing for their success. The book doesn't exactly have a happy ending, just a positive look at a realization by Mimi. Yet, you can't help but feeling good about this ending...that this was the way it was supposed to be. I wonder if we will ever see a book from Nam's point of view in the future. I could get behind reading something like that.
I enjoyed reading Postcards from Nam. Despite the book not being what I expected when I first picked up a copy, the writing and storyline were such that it captivated me. This is someone who writes fiction, but about experiences she knows about firsthand. For that reason, I will be checking out other titles by this author, including Mimi and Her Mirror and Daughters of River Huong.