chapter  6
15 Pages

Ecological Imaginations, the Vietnam War, and Vietnamese American Literature


Evoking a Vietnamese American context of war and forced relocation, Le Ly Hayslip’s autobiographical When Heaven and Earth Changed Places: A Vietnamese Woman’s Journey from War to Peace (1989) and Lan Cao’s fi ctional Monkey Bridge (1997) inhabit particularly conspicuous positions in the dominant U.S. imagination and within Asian American literary studies. Indeed, as Viet Nguyen notes, “For American readers, Hayslip has become representative of those anonymous millions of Vietnamese in whose name the Vietnam War was fought by both sides. Through her extraordinary

bears the victim’s burden of forgiveness.” Whereas Hayslip’s memoir has become “symbolically representative” of the war-torn Vietnamese subject and the traumatic contours of the Vietnam War (1959-75), Cao’s novel offers, as Jeanne Schinto suggests, an alternative engagement with the confl ict as “the fi rst fi ctional exploration of the Vietnamese experience in America.” 5 Schinto perceives that Monkey Bridge imaginatively restages the war via “its memorable characterizations, its pattern of images, and the insights that those images invite.” 6

Nguyen and Schinto’s observations, which consider cultural and imagistic representations of wartime Vietnamese American subjectivity, serve, in part, to frame this chapter’s analysis of When Heaven and Earth Changed Places and Monkey Bridge , which extends each evaluation to accommodate analogous senses of space. My examination of these texts centers on an ecological pattern of images that is tied to a traumatized Vietnamese American experience and militarized physical environment. When Hayslip describes “withered trees” and “beautiful tropic forests” transformed into “a bombcratered desert” by U.S.-manufactured chemicals and munitions, and Cao characterizes an American jeep as a living animal, for example, these writers encapsulate the enduring legacies of U.S. militarization and disastrous American campaigns in Southeast Asia.