I remember watching news casts covering of the fall of Saigon (and the whole of South Vietnam) as a high school junior in the spring of 1975 in a classroom from thousands of miles away. I knew that it was the end of a nation and a period of time for America that had been turbulent and divisive.
However, a young south Vietnamese girl, about three years younger than me, was personally experiencing the fall of Saigon as the tanks and soldiers from North Vietnam rolled into her town and forever changed her life, the life of her family, her nation, and her beloved city. What happened to her and her countrymen would remain unknown to me and many, many others, for many years.
But that girl, Cie Cie Tuyet Nguyen, has created an unforgettable novel about a girl named Trinh, and chronicled the journey that not just Trinh and her family, but thousands of her countrymen would take to find freedom from the oppression which came as her country, at last reunified with North Vietnam, was absorbed into the communist way of life. Shock Peace: The Search for Freedom (Tate Publishing, 2015) is a raw and gritty piece of historical fiction based on true events of the mid-1970’s when life forever changed in the south of Vietnam.
Shock Peace is a turbulent tale, told through the eyes of not just Trinh but her family and friends. It tells of the radical, and often overnight changes and decisions which reshaped a nation and changed the nature of their relationships, their culture, and their very lives. Nguyen tells the story as only one who lived through such dramatic and painful change can tell.
Starting with the days leading up the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975 and concluding in Australia and London in the present day, it chronicles not just a family’s effort to start again but a larger group of people who sought the freedom they had lost and risked life and limb to find it again. This is a story of re-education camps, of forced labor, of massive educational and economic changes and the hope of freedom which never went out in the hearts and minds of people.
The characters are unforgettable and descriptions of both Saigon and the South, the agonizing journey by water to freedom and the challenges of starting over in a new country with a different language and culture, is told in a manner that only one who lived through it and saw it through the eyes of the book’s character could tell. Though the narrative was disjointed to me at times and I had some trouble keep track of where it was and was headed, this novel held my attention and told me the story of a people who left their homeland and started life anew somewhere else because of their desire for freedom.
I liked this novel and gave it a three star rating on Goodreads only because the narrative was at times disjointed and hard to follow. But Shock Peace is a wonderful piece of fiction that is a worthy read to understand the aftermath of the Vietnam War.
Note: I received an electronic galley copy of this book from Smith Publicity via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.