After Sorrow: An American Among the Vietnamese

As an administrator for the Friends Service Committee in Quang Ngai Province, Borton (Sensing the Enemy: An American Among the Boat People of Vietnam) was one of the few Americans to work in both South and North Vietnam during the war. Much later, 1987-1993, she lived in Vietnamese villages, including a former Viet Cong base where women played a prominent role during the war. Her beautifully modulated memoir is less about the war itself than about the unique character of the village women: their formalized social interaction, use of traditional medicine, food-gathering and preparation and the Buddhist beliefs that guide their behavior. Borton’s gently compelling narrative follows the rhythm of the seasons and weather patterns and records the jarring advent of Western-style consumerism with the appearance of jeans, tennis shoes, motorcycles and VCRs. Describing her life in Hanoi (“Vietnam’s largest village”), where in 1990 she opened a Quaker Service office, she conveys her great affection for its hurly-burly pace. The author conversed with Vietnamese women fluently in their own language and thus is able to present fuller portraits than could be found elsewhere in English.