The woman behind the South Vietnamese seat of power during the Diệm era

Finding the Dragon Lady: The Mystery of Vietnam's Madame NhuFinding the Dragon Lady: The Mystery of Vietnam’s Madame Nhu by Monique Brinson Demery
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Women in politics. They are often reduced to the clothes they are wearing and the hairstyle they rock. In a predominantly male driven aspect of society the female is usually merely the wife of, daughter of or mistress of a man in power. Not enough women take center stage in government and when they do they are scrutinized and criticized far harsher than their male counterparts.
Madame Nhu was only the sister in law of the man in charge and yet she and her family exerted the strongest influence on him and the country. She was known for her lack of diplomacy. She refused to stay quiet and called a duck a duck if indeed it quacked and walked like said duck. She put many policies into place that took women back 20 steps into the last century.
Her so called morality laws outlawed abortion,divorce, adultery, contraceptives, dance halls, beauty pageants and she was often called out for being a hypocrite.
Madame Nhu was adamant and very vocal about the fact that the Americans brought about the downfall of her family and in doing so also the country.
“My family has been treacherously killed with either official or unofficial blessing of the American government, I can predict to you now that the story is only at its beginning.”
Of course that statement, which implies better the devil you know than the devil you don’t, was to be eerily predictive. The US thought they could control the outcome in North Vietnam via South Vietnam by removing Diệm. Instead the removal of Diệm and Nhu was the start of even greater instability in South Vietnam.
Demery makes an interesting point about the influence certain foreign press members had in South Vietnam. Openly critical of Madame Nhu and the country ruled by her family members they were actually undermining the US and strengthening the North Vietnamese. Pulling the rug right out from under them in the name of the press.
When the Buddhists starting protesting and the pagoda raids followed Madame Nhu was convinced that the Buddhist protest was backed and planned by the communists and manipulated by the Americans. Many years later a man who worked for many Us newspapers in Vietnam during the Diệm era was revealed as a North Vietnamese collaborator when he defected to NV.
Often seen as the loud mouthed, bossy Iron Lady of SV, the power behind the throne so to speak Madame Nhu was right on the button when it come to evaluating the political situation in her country. She was right about something so pivotal that if someone had listened they might have understood.
If you do not come from that country and culture then it is nigh on impossible to understand the complexity of past history, traditional values and the mindset of man in that foreign country, especially when it is the complete opposite of Western culture.
Unfortunately that is a mistake still made nearly half a century later.
Demery set out to find and understand the elusive Madame Nhu but I think in the end she remained the misunderstood and often misrepresented enigma that she has been for many decades. Other than the research already presented and written about by others Demery wasn’t able to get Madame Nhu to let her guard down. She died with her inner Pandora’s Box intact.
The woman was as sharp as knife there is a reason she kept that box closed very tightly.
I really enjoyed the way the author approached the subject. It was written in a very personal and lighthearted way with factual clarity. Demery is concise without being boring and praises her sources for the groundwork they have already done on the subject in hand. Kudos to the author for both the intricate research and for giving others their due when necessary.
An immensely interesting read.
I received a copy of this book via NetGalley.

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