The title of French writer and filmmaker Éric Vuillard’s short book on the First Indochina War (1946-1954) exudes sarcasm. For Vuillard, there was nothing “honorable” about France’s efforts to hold on to its Indochinese empire by force. In this, he mirrors those on the American left who ridiculed the Nixon-Kissinger formula of “peace with honor” in the Second Indochina War. Vuillard reduces the complex historical and geopolitical aspects of the French war to a single anti-capitalist narrative—the war was all about money and greed.

With war comes much trauma, and America’s Asian wars had the additional consequence of Amerasian children—too often left behind by both parents—who more times than not ended up on the streets. There is a term in Vietnamese that translates to “children of the dust” and it’s this concept that drives the story and title of Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s second novel, Dust Child. Another recent novel, Skull Water by Heinz Insu Fenkl, also centers around biracial children with GI fathers and Asian mothers during the time of the Vietnam War.

When journalist Erika Hayasaki was participating in a science journalism fellowship in 2016, she had recently given birth to identical twin sons. Her experience as the mother of twins informed her interest in researching the way one’s environment interacts with one’s genes. Soon she was interviewing sets of twins and was introduced to sisters, Ha and Isabella, teenagers who as infants were adopted in Vietnam. In her new book, Somewhere Sisters: A Story of Adoption, Identity, and the Meaning of Family, Hayasaki examines Ha’s and Isabella’s separation as infants and their later reunification, and whether their genes or environment played a stronger role in shaping their personalities. 

“My watch reads ten o’clock,” opens Thuan’s Chinatown, a novel that displays a writer in full play with language and story-telling. Her narrator begins a two-hour interior monologue that is the bulk of the novel. She is on a stopped train in the Métro in Paris. Her twelve-year-old son is asleep against her shoulder. An unattended duffel bag has raised the uncertainty of a bomb. Most passengers have disembarked, opting for other ways to their destinations. Along with three others, the narrator sits. Her mind wanders through the jumble of experiences, emotions, and places she continues to live. At times, these are overwhelmed by the larger world, with forays into the massive emigration of Vietnamese to France, the collapse of the USSR, and the effects of such events on ordinary lives. She is thirty-nine, Vietnamese, a writer, and currently teaching in France.

Sometimes the further away in time you get from an event, the clearer it becomes. Time often enables historians to learn more facts and circumstances about, and fosters a more dispassionate view of, historical events like wars. The Vietnamese wars against France in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and against the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, have far too frequently been analyzed through ideological and political lenses, with both sides ignoring or downplaying facts that do not fit within their ideological-political agendas. The greatest merit of Christoper Goscha’s splendid history of the First Indochina War (1945-1954) is his unsparing devotion to letting facts inform his assessments and conclusions.