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Magically, my father brought our heirlooms, ancestral shrine, and some of our furniture—including his tools and farm implements—out of the forest. He had stayed behind to save what he could from the devils. Without pausing for sleep, my father and mother began rebuilding our home. Gradually, I forgot about the snake-monster and its fiery breath. My mother carried me to the fields or I stayed at home and sister Lan looked after me. Although the land remained fertile, farming was often interrupted and the whole village came close to starvation.

I asked. “Yes, but only until she married. When she moved out, my little brother Khan cried and cried. ” I laughed at the foolishness of little boys. Perhaps it was wise they were encouraged to go to school while most girls were told to stay home. They certainly needed the education. I asked her again about her oldest brother. He was famous in our family for his training in the city. “Nhu was first in our family to go to school,” she said, “although it was usually on an empty stomach. None of us could eat until the evening when Aunt Thu would bring dinner out from her house after her own day’s work in the fields.

After these initial “lessons,” the cadre leaders introduced us to the two Vietnamese leaders who personified each view—the opposite poles of our tiny world. On the South pole was President Ngo Dinh Diem, America’s staunch ally, who was Catholic like the French. Although he was idolized by many who said he was a great humanitarian and patriot, his religion alone was enough to make him suspicious to Buddhists on the Central Coast. The loyalty we showed him, consequently, was more duty to a landlord than love for a founding father.

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