Exhibits

Patricia Norland on Nine Women in Saigon

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In this post, we ask author Patricia D. Norland three questions about The Saigon Sisters: Privileged Women in the Resistance (published under our NIU Press imprint) and her research on a group of privileged women who worked for the resistance in Saigon.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

How one of the Saigon Sisters, Vietnamese women who attended a French lycée in 1940s Saigon, persisted in finding a way to reunite the women after three decades of war. Graduating in 1950, these friends were flung apart—donning black pajamas to join the resistance, being sent by worried parents to study abroad. Each found her role in the revolution. After the war’s end in 1975, they returned to Saigon not knowing what happened to their classmates. Despite distrust across war-ravaged Saigon, Tuyen set out on her motorbike to find her friends. Their first reunion took place in Saigon in 1981.

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

The extent to which US officials ignored telltale signs of why the French were defeated in Indochina. There are histories of French Indochina and an abundance of books on the Vietnam War by Westerners. There is a need for books by Vietnamese on why they fought the French and—when the French left—the Americans. More than the sum of several Western books, any one of the Saigon Sisters’ accounts unveils why, even as young women of privilege in 1940s Saigon, they rejected rule by foreigners. They could have gone abroad and never returned; instead, they endured decades of trauma.

3. How do you wish you could change the field of Military History?

Urge a greater study of the impact of war on civilians. We should expect military accounts that go beyond a litany of weapons and set battles, ending with the last paroxysm of violence or flag-draped coffin. How does war affect civilians, short- and long-term? Families? Education? Friendships? Careers? A country’s society and economy? Wars aren’t fought and then end: their effects linger and merit scrutiny to understand how conflict changes the lives of men and women—at the time, and later. We need to focus on how the terror and trauma of war changes individuals, as well as societies.


Patricia D. Norland most recently worked as a public diplomacy officer within the US Department of State. She is the author of The Saigon Sisters (published under our NIU Press imprint), translator of Beyond the Horizon, and the author of Vietnam in the Children of the World series.

Visit our virtual booth and get your copy of The Saigon Sisters with a 40% off special conference discount this #SMH2020.

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