LAN CAO IS a Vietname-American author and a professor of law at Chapman University School of Law in Orange County. Born in Saigon, South Vietnam, Cao’s father was a high-ranking commander in the South Vietnamese army, and after the northern People’s Army prevailed in South Vietnam in 1975 she was flown out of the country and adopted by family friends in Connecticut. Her critically acclaimed debut novel, Monkey Bridge, was the first work of fiction published by a major publishing house about the Vietnam War written by a Vietnamese-American.
Her new book is The Lotus and the Storm, which tells converging tales of the Vietnam War. One story follows a young Vietnamese girl, Mai, growing up in a peaceful country just before the Vietnam war, while the other story is about the girl’s father, a former commander in the South Vietnamese army, living many years later in the United States. The novel weaves together the past and the present and dives into each character’s deep personal traumas, showing how the casualties of war go well beyond death and destruction to penetrate the souls of its victims, affecting them for years to come.
Mai’s father’s story also happens to begin in 2006, deep in the throes of the Iraq War. He watches the horror on his television screen and slowly begins to relive his former battles and his great tragedies. The reference to Iraq is unmistakable, and Cao’s experiential lens toward Vietnam — her young characters’ loss of innocence, the deep psychological conflict of being both “redeemed” and “betrayed” by America — offers a discerning new take on the lives of victims in two conflicts that have so greatly shaped American history.