“Was all our pain and suffering worth it? Is the pain and suffering of childbirth worth a baby? You decide. Would I repeat my long voyage to America and womanhood even if success was not assured? You bet. Water leaves its source not knowing which obstacles it will encounter. All it can do is behave according to its nature: finding a path here, making a path there, pooling its strength when needed until it can break free. Ultimately, it reaches the sea, the mother of us all. That sea gave birth to the person I became in America. I am thankful to be its daughter.” Hiep Thi Le
This memoir by Hiep Thi Le tells the story of her life as a young girl living with her parents and siblings in Vietnam during the 1970s. The author narrates the story beginning at the age of eight where they live in a stilt-hut on the shore of the Song Hang River. In the poor village of An Hai, her father made his living as a fisherman. He was also the village healer because he’d studied with the Buddhist monks at Marble Mountain. She tells about learning the song about her village and how Father Dragon lived in the sky above their house with Mother Fairy and how she loved playing with her little sister Dimples. Hiep was confused as to why her cousin Nhanh disappeared due to his “dangerous opinions.” By being a good listener, she learned why so many neighbors and villagers disappeared to be “re-educated.” Gossiping and complaining were forbidden by the men who wore yellow stars on their hats and who came storming into their village unannounced. These things were talked about by family and neighbors while they all hid in their bunker when the “booms and the tat-a-tats” came near to their forest home. Hiep listened to everyone, and learned a secret from the oldest woman in the village. Some of the people who were gone now lived under the White Dragon and the Dragon’s name was America. In 1979, Hiep’s mother put her and little sister Dimples (Le) on a boat that would take them to Hong Kong to search for their father who had disappeared several years before. They located him in a refugee camp and then made their way on a long, dangerous voyage to America.
The theme of a young and innocent girl leaving her village to escape to America is familiar to readers, but this one is unique, just as all memoirs are different. Each person who writes their autobiography has a story unlike any others, a never-before told life story.
I really loved this book. My favorite genre is memoir and biographies. To me, stories of real people are better than fiction because they are true. Recording a person’s memoirs ensures the person lives on in history. The author continues to live for their family and even for readers who’ve never heard of them. Just as Holocaust survivors have written their stories, and are still writing, there will come a time when those survivors will all be gone. Readers will have to depend on what’s already been recorded to learn about that era. In the same way, survivors of the Vietnam war are recording their stories for future generations.
While attending University of California at Davis, Hiep and her sister answered a casting call for the movie Heaven and Earth. Oliver Stone chose Hiep for the role of role of author and humanitarian Le Ly Hayslip. The film was based on the books When Heaven and Earth Changed Places and Child of War, Woman of Peace, which Le Ly Hayslip wrote about her experiences during and after the Vietnam War.
Hiep’s memoir, Daughter of the Sea: My Voyage to Freedom and Womanhood, was unpublished at the time of her death in 2017 at the age of 46. Her good friend, Jill Powell, published the book posthumously in 2019. Heip will write no more books. I would recommend this book to adults and all readers over the age of eight, the age Heip was when she left her village home. You will not regret learning Hiep’s life story.
Hiep Thi Le, the actress known for her acclaimed role in Oliver Stone’s 1994 film Heaven and Earth opposite Tommy Lee Jones, died December 19 of complications from stomach cancer, Deadline has learned. She was 46.”
Ramos, Dino-Ray. “Hiep Thi Le Dies: Oliver Stone’s ‘Heaven And Earth’ Star Was 46.” Deadline, 20 Dec. 2017, deadline.com/2017/12/hiep-thi-le-dead-obituary-heaven-and-earth-actress-tommy-lee-jones-oliver-stone-1202230318/.
REX/Shutterstock. Hiep Thi Le photograph.
Paperback: 148 pages
Publisher: Matchstick Literary (November 1, 2019)