When do you think Heaven and Earth Change places? This outstanding book will tell you when and make you understand why. “When Heaven and Earth Changed Places” is a sensitive memoir chronicling Le Ly Hayslip peasant life in Ky La (now called Xa Hoa Qui), near Danang in Central Vietnam. Le Ly Hayslip or Phung Thi Le Ly is an award- winning Vietnamese-American author, humanitarian and businesswoman. Her first memoir is a tale of her life struggling between two wars from her childhood days to her adolescence, her escape to the United States until her eventual return to her native land.
She was born in 1949 to a devout Buddhist family. During this time Ho Chi Minh waged a resistance movement with the Viet Minh against the French. Rebels had widespread support among the peasants. As a child, Le Ly worked as a spy and saboteurs along with many of her fellow villagers. It took about eight long years before France finally decided to leave Vietnam with the condition that it would be split between North and South Vietnam. This is the war-torn reality that Le Ly grew up with. Her book is a brave account of her experiences, her horrors, her struggles and her adjustments.
At a tender age, she had suffered near-starvation, imprisonment, torture, rape and the deaths of beloved family members. She experienced the war from every side: as a member of the Viet Cong, a war profiteer, a friend and ally of the American GIs and a prisoner of war. Her story is not unique in the sense that it was experienced by almost everyone else in their village but what made it exceptional is that she never lost faith in herself and in the people around her. She talked about honor, personal strength, commitment and forgiveness never succumbing to temptations of blame, self-pity nor cynicism.
Her story is so rich with gripping details that Oliver Stone picked her novel as the basis of his movie Heaven and Earth. In 1970, she left for the United States with her two children and her American husband. They settled in San Diego where he died a few years later. Le Ly briefly remarried, but her second husband died shortly after their wedding leaving her alone to raise her three boys. Almost 20 years after her escape to America, she was drawn inexorably back to the devastated country and family she left behind.
Hayslip started The East Meets West Foundation in 1988, a humanitarian relief organization that aims to heal some of the war wounds of all sides involved. The foundation has established health centers and schools in Vietnam and provides emotional treatment for American GIs who were scarred by their experiences in the war. Hero, Loser or Victim? Le Ly is certainly not a loser, a victim – yes in a way but definitely a hero. Reading the book will let you experience her moving and brave life and how she faced the awful atrocities of war unflinchingly.
Her combat experiences are comparable to those of the most decorated veterans. Her sharing her life to the world through her book is an act of heroism in itself. She is an epitome of the potential of the human spirit. We quote her in the Prologue, “The special gift of suffering, I have learned, is how to be strong while we are weak, how to be brave when we are afraid, how to be wise in the midst of confusion, and how to let go of that which we can no longer hold. In this way, anger can teach us forgiveness, hate can teach us love, and war can teach us peace.
” Isn’t it wonderful to get these sprinkles of wisdom from someone who has been into a lot and loss and grief? If you are to imagine all the hardships she has been subjected to – others would have given up hope but she was able to see it through it all. She was able to surpass her physical and emotional wounds creating meaning and letting her find positive outcomes. Much of Le Ly’s character is influenced by her father because she was close to him. In Chapter 6 we find her father clearly stating his views, “No,” my father replied sadly, “don’t hate Chin – and don’t hate Ba for marrying him.
Hate the war for doing what it did to them both. ” For Le Ly’s father there is no right side and no wrong side; the enemy is not the Americans or the Viet Cong. The enemy is war. This Buddhist view has strongly influenced Le Ly’s values. By having this understanding she was able to see that War is the villain and not people and because of this she was able to find forgiveness in her heart and peace in her life. Right now Hayslip is an accomplished humanitarian. We can say that she has really come a long way. When she sold her book in 1987, she was able to start her non-profit organization, East Meets West.
Her tireless efforts to improve understanding between the two cultures (American and Vietnamese), provide quality health care, educational services, vocational training, and rehabilitation to the Vietnamese makes her an exceptional role model of our time.
Books Hayslip, Le Ly with Wurts, Jay. When Heaven and Earth Changed Places: A Vietnamese Woman’s Journey from War to Peace. Plume, Penguin Books, 1990. Online Sources Owens, Kadi Hughes and Geoffrey. SparkNote on When Heaven and Earth Changed Places. 6 Dec. 2006 <http://www. sparknotes. com/lit/whenheaven>