A group of Vietnamese who have an affiliation with the CIA is transported to Phu Quoc, a remote island of South Vietnam, awaiting evacuation when the end of the war is imminent. Amongst them are TAM, an army doctor who is forced to escape by his older brother whom he reveres, and MAI, an escort girl from Saigon who practices the trade to help her parents feed their twelve children. Also on the island is a famous musician who is stuck with his ugly wife after an attempt to leave for America with his mistress was aborted. KIEU, an Assistant Director of a CIA sponsored black radio station is on the evacuation list along with her poet husband. An opium-addicted writer completes the cast of characters.

A CIA agent, DAVID, has brought Mai, along with her entire family, to the island. Mai has promised to marry David if he helped her family escape. Tam and Mai meet on the beach of Phu Quoc and establish a relationship that proves to be first love for both.

When the ship that takes them to America arrives, the evacuation begins and they become stateless people as well as refugees.

Their lives in exile begin as they finally settle in different parts of the new country.

Tam meets a teacher, BEVERLY, who encourages and supports him to return to his medical profession. They marry and divorce.

Mai leaves David and eventually becomes the wife of JAMES MAXWELL, a business tycoon. Maxwell disappears and Mai inherits a large fortune.

The famous musician, after a chance meeting with his former mistress again on Guam Island, decides to murder his ugly wife in order to be reunited with his mistress.

Kieu abandons her husband and shacks up with HARRY, her former boss; then comes back to her husband when he becomes the leader of a “Free Vietnam” movement. One day, he disappears with the movement’s cash.

The opium-addicted writer tries to shrug off his addiction and vows to write his masterpiece - the story of the exiled Vietnamese in America. He fails on both counts.

After fifteen years in America, in 1990, all of them converge in Little Saigon, California, the world capital of the exiled Vietnamese.

Tam now has his private practice.

Mai owns several Vietnamese businesses.

Kieu becomes a successful entrepreneur and a leader in the community as well as a Westminster City Councilwoman.

The musician fails in his attempt to murder his wife but succeeds in having his mistress again.

The writer starts his novel.

Tam and Mai meet again after twenty years. They decide to get married despite Mai’s relationship with PAUL MOSS, a U.S. Congressman.

Kieu wants Tam for herself and sees a threat in Mai as a rival for her title First Lady of Little Saigon. She sets out to publicly destroy Mai. The feud between them spreads over two continents.

CHI, the brother whom Tam reveres, immigrates to America and discovers that his brother’s fiancée was once his lover when she was an escort girl in Vietnam. After an emotional reunion with Chi, Mai cancels the wedding and goes away to spare Tam and his brother the difficulty of dealing with the ghost of her past.

Disappointed by his broken relationship with Mai and disillusioned by the medical profession, Tam no longer wants to be a doctor.

Unable to be at peace with himself and his brother, Chi decides to go back to Vietnam to be with his daughter and grandchildren.

Kieu finally becomes Tam’s lover.

Mai is married to Paul Moss, the congressman. Moss is nominated by the President of the United States to be U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam.

The musician’s wife dies and so does his lust for his mistress.

The writer almost completes his novel.

The whole cast of characters returns to Vietnam at the same time for different reasons.

An excerpt 

Tam laboriously climbed the slick and rusted iron steps that led to the upper deck. The giant ship began to move. Tam was exhausted from lack of sleep, hunger, and the feeling of nostalgia that had started to gnaw at him the second he landed on the ship. A sickened emotion crept into his psyche; a single line of thought kept reverberating in his mind: this is it; there will be no coming back. Goodbye, Mother Vietnam. I’ve let you down. Please forgive this ungrateful son.

The deck was deserted. People were still trying to find a dry spot to spread their blankets down in the huge cavity of the cargo ship, feeding their children, saying prayers thanking God for a successful escape. Tam looked at his watch. It had taken three hours to get everyone on board.

A single boarding vessel had been late to arrive to ferry the evacuees to the ship. Had it failed to come, the evacuation would have been aborted and the seven hundred people sitting on the dock wouldn't have known what to do. They would have nowhere to go. The climb up on the rope ladder suspended from the railing on the top deck of the ship wasn't easy. The rope swayed in the wind and the boarding vessel bobbed up and down in the water. It was hard to purchase a grip on the pendulous ladder. A lone spotlight from the ship, which attempted to illuminate the scene, barely cut through the darkness. David had planned for children and the elderly to go first but no one moved. No one had expected the treacherous fifty-foot climb on the tall and free-swinging rope ladder that swayed and hit the side of the ship every time a gust came. With the wind were the large waves that lifted the boat high in the air, throwing people off balance. The children cried and the women shrieked in fright as they hung on the handrail on the boat. With two large men gripping the bottom rung, David demonstrated the climb by going up the ladder himself, with Mai’s three-year-old brother clinging on his back. A group of young men volunteered to bring the children up first. Mai’s mother was so scared that she just clung to the ladder halfway to the top without moving for a long time. One of Mai’s brothers had to climb up to coax her to continue. The ageing writer was still weak; he gave up when he was two-thirds of the way, having no strength left in his arms and legs. He was about to let himself fall into mercy when he looked down and saw a mass of people; if I drop now, I'll kill some of them too, he told himself. The thought of killing someone, not himself, gave him the power to finish the heroic climb. With the oblong box containing his priceless Dan Bau strapped on his back, the musician scaled the rope quite easily, to his wife’s disgust. He had been a star soccer player in his youth and his calves were still as solid as rock. One by one, the evacuees boarded the cargo ship. Now Tam understood why the evacuation instructions said no heavy luggage. Where was the luggage? Tam’s mind was completely numb; he didn’t even pursue that train of thought.

          Tam leaned on the railing, crossing his arms over his chest to ward off the cold sea air. He looked back at the sparsely lighted island. Four o’clock in the morning. People were still asleep except for, perhaps, the fishermen. The ship cut through the water effortlessly. A thick mass of fog suddenly materialized from nowhere and enfolded him in its midst. Tam felt very lost and very tired. His knees buckled under him. Tam slid down and sat on the deck, the metal ship railing cold and hard against his back. Tam closed his eyes. He didn't want to think anymore. He didn't want to be awake anymore. He didn't want to live anymore.


The noise and the heat woke him up. Someone had a radio on and a marching tune blared amid the noises of people running, yelling. Children were crying. The sun was beaming down with intense heat. He opened his eyes and looked at his watch. Five to ten.

          “Big Minh is going on the radio at ten,” someone said.

          “What’s he gonna say?”

          “There are no suitcases on the ship. I checked everywhere,” a woman shouted.

          “Did anyone see if they brought the suitcases aboard last night?” another man raised his voice.

          “We lost our luggage.”

          “Oh, my God! All my savings were in there.”

          “Where is the CIA guy? Let’s find him.”

The martial music on the radio suddenly stopped. As if commanded by a silent order, everyone ceased moving and talking. The air was heavy with unbearable suspense.

          “Esteemed listeners, President Duong Van Minh,” a familiar, solemn baritone voice, which Tam and most people recognized as belonging to a major in the psychological warfare department, made the announcement on the radio.

          Another excruciating moment of waiting, then the southern-accented, gentle voice of General Minh came on the air, quaking with emotions.

          “My compatriots,” he began, “this morning, I have ordered our troops to lay down their arms….”

Tam was stricken with grief. The President’s voice droned on but he no longer heard him. The humiliating end wasn't unexpected given retreat after retreat of the ARVN in the last few months, the morale of the troops, the disintegration of a once formidable fighting army, the upheaval in the change of government, the calculated indifference of the Americans, and most of all, the unpatriotic acts of people like himself, deserting their motherland at a time she needed them most. Thousands of what if ‘s swirled in his mind and the tear dam broke.

Tam and people around him wept. Others were stunned and lapsed into a trance. The owner of the radio suddenly grabbed his precious property and flung it overboard. In the startling silence that ensued, someone began to sing; his voice cracked while tears streamed down his face:


          “Citizens, let us rise and answer the call of the rivers and the mountains,

We will march together and be ready to sacrifice our lives….”

          One after another, people all over the ship rose, stood at attention, put their right hands over their hearts, and added their voices to the chorus singing the National Anthem of the Republic of Vietnam for the last time. In mourning the loss of his country, each person also grieved over his own fate. By choosing to desert their country, they had become stateless people.

          “…To make us proud to be the descendants of the Lac Hong race.”

As the coda of the anthem faded, their new destiny emerged. They were now refugees.



back to home page


Make a free website with Yola