During the Vietnam War, a lot of people died, property was destroyed and some others fled to other countries. Some of those like Andrew escaped to the US with their families when they were young while others like Tram were left where she was forced to work for the veterans. This essay will analyze the struggle to find identity in two books; “Catfish and Mandala” and “Last Night I Dreamed of Peace”. “Last Night I Dreamed of Peace” is about a war torn country where one doctor keeps a diary about the events and effects of war. “Catfish and Mandala” is about a man named Andrew who fled the country but is determined to find his identity as a Vietnamese. After the country was destroyed, Andrew gained dual identity as a Vietnamese and also as an American. While in the beginning he hates his country of birth as it was destroyed by war, at last he is happy and at peace to be associated with it and be a Vietnamese.
The story in the ‘Last Night I Dreamed of Peace’ was written by a physician serving in North Vietnam during the war and she treated men and women who were wounded by the American soldiers (Tram pg 1). The doctor changed the way people viewed war and the effects of war to those who didn’t even participate in it as she kept worrying whether her family was alright. Earlier on, Tram describes her concerns about not being accepted into the party showing that she was also struggling with identity issues just like Andrew from “Catfish and Mandala”. The doctor describes her emotions and experiences as she felt fear, loneliness and determination as that was the first time she heard and saw a gunshot at a close range. Tram is filled with hatred for the American soldiers who she refers to as invaders, imperialist and bloodthirsty. She, however, didn’t make it through the war because an American soldier shot her on the head as she was trying to defend her patients wearing conventional black pajamas of her compatriots Her diary was meant to be burnt but it was saved by an American soldier who went against the American law and he kept it for many years after which he turned the diary to Tram’s parents. Whitehurt turned the diary and he expected hostility from her parents but to her surprise, he was welcomed and taken as an adopted brother. The war broke Tram’s family and instead she was lonely as she was taken by her family’s friend to serve as a doctor. Therefore, ‘Last Night I dreamed of Peace’ talks of the actual events that happened during the Vietnam War while ‘Catfish and Mandala’ describe the effects of war on other people. As seen the war makes the Vietnam citizens hate the Americans because the American soldiers invaded their country.
The author of ‘The Catfish and Mandala’ uses describes that Andrew who tries to find his identity was a Vietnamese but fled American due to war. Andrew covers the journey to Vietnam with the hopes of finding his own identity as both an American and Vietnamese after his sister’s death. Andrew takes his bicycle and embarks on a journey to find his roots in Vietnam. After his arrival, he faces challenges of either identifying himself with the Vietnamese who were unable to leave the country and also the Vietnamese-Americans who were returning home. While at home, Andrew finds it hard to forgive Tyle who committed atrocities towards Andrew’s people but Andrew doesn’t understand who his people are because when he is America, American citizens refer to him as a Vietnamese while he himself cannot side with Vietnamese because he left the country when young and he has been westernized (8). Andrew is in conflict with his identity while in Vietnam where he tries to consume their food and he is determined to belong to his people thus he eats their food like pho.
In the end after much struggle, he feels that identifying himself as Vietnamese only would be wrong instead he chooses the right values from the American culture and also from the Vietnamese culture. But what is evident from this text is that in the beginning, Andrew doesn’t want to be Vietnamese because one, he becomes disgusted by how much the country in unhygienic (68) and two, because the local people don’t appreciate him as a Vietnamese. However, it is seen that he needs and feels good to be associated with Vietnam as he seeks forgiveness from his sister Chi and the Vietnam people. After reconciliation Andrew feel at peace. While in search for answers, he is overcame with guilt and sadness as he laments his country that once existed but was destroyed by war. Although Andrew will never obtain a complete reconciliation with his dual identity, and will always feel a sense of displacement, his visit to Vietnam makes him realize he can be part of both cultures. Andrew returns home with a smile on his face and he realizes that acceptance and forgiveness is the only thing that will make us move forward.
As of now, I believe that Andrew would be happy to be associated with Vietnam as he understands his Vietnam culture. He comes to understand that the central figure that is in Vietnam is not a prostitute but it represents moral standards. Forgiveness and reconciliation unities all people.
- Pham, Andrew X. “Catfish and mandala.” New York: Picador (1999).
- Tram, Dang Thuy. “Last Night I Dreamed of Peace. Translated by Andrew X. Pham.” (2007).