A man in his mid-forties, a successful engineer, is returning to the country where he was born thirty years ago. His name is Pierre Nakasone. He has a Japanese surname, a French given name, and an American passport; but he is Vietnamese and he is going to Vietnam to represent his construction company on a long-term project after a disappointing childless marriage to Grace Mason, a pretty blond-haired journalist.

A stranger in his own country, knowing no one, Pierre is even uncertain about his true identity. Interactions with the natives in his first few days in Vietnam make him become closer to being Vietnamese again, a feeling he has not had for the last thirty years. In bits and pieces, his past comes back to him.

He hires a soft-spoken and beautiful secretary, Hoa. Through Hoa, he meets Anh, an attractive, vivacious custom officer /polyglot. Anh was educated in The Soviet Union and has a colorful past. After six months, they become very close but are not yet lovers.

Hoa’s husband, Minh, a blind and talented musician, kills himself in a jealous rage - I Give You My Life - says his suicide note - to give Hoa a chance to be married to her rich Japanese boss, who, he suspects in his tortuous mind, is having an affair with his wife. In a twist of fate, Minh is also Anh’s twin brother and they share a tumultuous past along with their mother.

Anh, in her grief, sleeps with Pierre for the first time the day of Minh’s funeral and they find each other delightful sexual partners. The morning after he makes love with Anh, Pierre is called back to Chicago and laid off. Pierre is able to negotiate a favorable settlement.

Pierre decides to go back to Vietnam on his own. Now he has the time to find out more about himself, his people, and his native country. And he wants to see Anh again.

Grace Mason, now a television reporter, is on an assignment in Hanoi to investigate the mysterious disappearance of an American diplomat in Saigon who had vanished in the last few days before the end of the war. He was Grace’s father, whom she had not seen since she was five years old. In 1991, the Vietnamese government had given the MIA delegation a picture of him taken after the war, but claimed no knowledge of his existence. Her journey leads her to the central highland where she discovers her father’s lover, his grave, her Amerasian half-sister and the circumstances that led to his staying in Vietnam.

Hoa tells Pierre that Anh is pregnant with his child but intends to keep it to herself and have an abortion. She’s afraid that Pierre would leave her and return to America if he knew. He is not, in her mind, likely to marry her and stay. Anh cannot leave Vietnam because of her attachment to her son from a previous marriage and the prospect of losing him if she marries Pierre and moves to America with him. Pierre convinces Anh of his love for her and their child. They get married.

Anh falls down from the stairs in the last week of her pregnancy. She dies on the operating table but their daughter, Amy, is saved. Pierre blames himself for Anh’s death.

In seclusion for two months to mourn and unable to come near his daughter, Pierre comes dangerously close to losing his mind. A psychiatrist suggests he leave his daughter in Hoa’s care and go somewhere for a time. Pierre decides to visit Hanoi, his birthplace. In Hanoi he finds parts of his past. The sentimental attachments to his birth country grow.

 An excerpt

 I was born on the day the General Uprising took place in the Northern part of Vietnam. On December 19, 1946 the Vietminh government decided once and for all that the protracted negotiations with the French for the independence of the state of Vietnam were going nowhere and the domination of the colonial force must cease. The whole country was mobilized. Some answered the call in spirit; some took up arms. The Vietminh was counting on the world’s opinion, which was clearly opposed to the centuries-old colonialism. They had the backing of the Communist regimes in China and Russia. Another factor was the increasing influence of the freedom-loving United States of America in regard to the abolishment of the colonial system that was deemed unfair, cruel, inhuman, and uncivilized. The struggle took eight years, countless deaths, and immense sacrifice on the part of the Vietnamese people. It finally ended with the defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954. The war against a foreign power to regain independence was over, but the battle for the soul of the Vietnamese people between the Communists in the North and the Nationalists in the South had just begun.

          It took another twenty years and three million more deaths before the two parts of Vietnam were reunited. The rebuilding of the nation got underway.


I was oblivious to the history of my people during those momentous days. I was too young to remember the war against the French. And when the North and the South were fighting, I was abroad, being educated under a stark set of different circumstances, away from the sound of gunfire, the bombing, and the inhumane acts of war. I had no connections whatsoever to the things that happened in a place half a world away even though that place was called Vietnam, the word I wrote down when filling in the blank space that says, Place of Birth. 


When I was six years old, my parents made a promise to a family friend, Mrs. Linh, a widow, that I would marry Kim, her daughter. She was two years my junior. Kim was the pride and joy of her grandfather, a very rich merchant in Hanoi. When the Geneva Accord was signed and Vietnam was divided into two zones, Mrs. Linh moved south and settled in Saigon, bringing along half the family’s fortune, but not her daughter. Kim stayed in Hanoi at the insistence of her grandfather, who expected that the family would be together again in two years when an election to reunite the two zones was scheduled to occur. My family also went south in 1954 along with a million other people who chose allegiance to the nationalist government in the southern part of Vietnam. The election never took place. Kim never saw her mother again.


I became sort of a surrogate for Kim in her mother’s life.  She came to pick me up every Sunday in a light blue American car with seats softer and more spacious than my grandparents’ Hong Kong mattress. She took me to the best restaurants in Saigon, bought me a lot of presents, and later asked my father if she could send me to school in France.  It  was  the tradition for students from affluent families to go abroad for their  education .  My father turned her down, saying he wanted to pay for his own son’s education.

          When I was thirteen, my parents died in a car accident. I was also in the car but luckily escaped death or injury. Aunt Linh arranged for me to go to France to study after my parents’ funeral but the government repeatedly denied my application for permission to leave the country. She then recruited the assistance of Mr. Jacques Nakasone, a French national of Japanese descent, one of her many suitors. So, a lengthy process of establishing my eligibility to go to France was underway. Jacques filed papers to adopt me. My name was changed to Nakasone. My Vietnamese first name Thach (it means Stone) was changed to Pierre (Stone in French). I said goodbye for the last time to my parents' graves then embarked on a journey that lasted thirty years.


I was sent to Paris, enrolled in a lycée near the Latin Quarter, then on to college where I graduated with a degree in engineering. Aunt Linh died of cancer when I was in college so I started working to pay my own tuition. I earned my Master’s at Stanford and began my career with an American construction company. I became a naturalized citizen in 1980. As for Mr. Nakasone, after having given me his name, he disappeared. I never saw him again. Once in a while, I thought of changing my name back to Le, my birth name, but I never found the time or the desire to do it.


Grace Mason was a reporter for the San Diego Tribune when I met her at a tennis club in Carlsbad. In my youth, Grace Kelly was the ultimate movie star; and when I was in France, Catherine Deneuve had just started to blossom into the most beautiful actress. I saw both of them in Grace Mason. After graduating from Columbia with a degree in journalism, she joined the Tribune. We were married after an eight-month courtship. I was thirty-seven, Grace was twenty-eight. We lived in a modern house in Encinitas, ten minutes from the Southern California coast. I was happy.

          The commute to work was just twenty minutes.  I had  risen to Senior Manager at Pearson International Construction and Engineering Inc. The pay was good. My family was just about perfect except for one thing: I couldn’t have children. Doctors told me my sperm count was too low. We talked about adopting a baby but Grace vetoed it saying she wanted a child with our own blood. The job of a reporter took her away from our family a lot and in fact, I didn’t think she could handle the job and a child at the same time. I was about to accept the fate of a childless marriage when Grace came home one day with the news.


I had known for a while that she’d been trying to get into television. I had to say I couldn’t blame her. She was beautiful, very photogenic and possessed good instincts for a reporter. Grace told me she had an offer from CBS. I was thrilled for her. Then she dropped the bomb.

          “I’ll have to move to the East Coast,” she informed me.

          “Of course, you just have to go where the job is. I’ve done it before many times.”

          “Thank you for understanding.”

          “There’s nothing to understand,” I said. “We should also start looking for housing, putting our home up for sale or renting it out. I’m sure that John will find me a place near wherever you will be.”

          John Singlaub was the President of the company and we went back a long way.

          “No, you don’t understand.” She sounded a little contrite for about five

seconds. “I’m moving there by myself.”


          “It’ll give us a chance to reassess our relationship.”

          And those were her last words on the subject.

          Two months later Grace moved to Baltimore, taking on the duty of the Sunday Morning News anchor for a CBS affiliated station.  She filed for divorce six months later. We had been married for six years, two months, and twenty days. She had been seeing a West Coast reporter for some time. He’d recommended her for the job. I learned later that he was also married. I plunged into a depression for a long time, feeling sorry for myself, hating her every minute that I was awake. I came out of the slump blaming myself more than anything or anybody else. I took a sabbatical, went to Mexico, lived like a hermit, and nursed my wounds. Upon my return, I still couldn’t function. With Grace three thousand miles away but still haunting me every time I came home, I became desperate. I thought about killing myself so I could shut her out of my life once and for all. I talked to John. He offered to help me with an ideal solution by putting as much distance between Grace and me as possible: He sent me to Vietnam. My company was about to embark on a joint venture project with the Vietnamese government, with funding from the International Monetary Fund, to study the prospect of building a twin city across the Saigon River.


The year was 1990, exactly thirty years since I left. I was forty-three years old. I had a Japanese surname, a French given name, an American passport, an Asian face, and a Vietnamese heritage. I had no wife, no siblings, no close friends, and I was going back to the place where I came from but knew nothing about.


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