Family of Fallen Leaves
Stories of Agent Orange by Vietnamese Writers

Edited by Charles Waugh and Huy Lien
Foreword by John Balaban

An anthology that sheds light on suffering long after the war’s end


"This unique and remarkable book more than deserves the widest nationwide reading and strong recognition. During the Vietnam War, the U.S. Air Force extensively sprayed the enemy's jungle and rural countryside with a chemical defoliant known as Agent Orange to deprive the Vietcong of forest cover. However, Agent Orange was then well-known to be heavily contaminated with dioxin, the most potent known human carcinogen. The pain of agonizing diseases, cancers, and deaths in small towns and villages is told in their own words, by victims or their family members, in heart moving, yet non-accusatory detachment against the U.S. chemical warfare."
—Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., Chairman, Cancer Prevention Coalition and Professor Emeritus University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health

“The editors have included some of the best-known contemporary authors in Vietnam in this intelligently selected and well-translated collection of essays concerning the inevitable suffering caused by Agent Orange. Their combined voices allow us to share some of the pain and human consequences that resulted from a war against the environment itself, and inexorably, agonizingly, remind us of our connection to, and responsibility for, that damage. It is only through the intimacy of imaginative literature that one can begin to experience the depth of that destruction and the wreckage of individual lives.”
—Wayne Karlin, author of Wandering Souls: Journeys with the Dead and the Living in Viet Nam

Helen Maria Williams (1759-1827) “Sad isn't even the half of it, when it comes to these lovingly crafted, expertly translated, exquisite stories of pain, loss and heartache. When you read Family of Fallen Leaves, you feel it in the pit of your stomach - no small achievement for any type of literature, much less fiction translated from a language where so much is implied, contextual and makes use of ritual phrases and intricate word play.”
Asia Times

Helen Maria Williams (1759-1827) “Military, literary and social issues collections alike will find this packed with experiences, insights, and social commentary key to understanding the Vietnamese experience, and will find this offers a powerful, literary collection.”
Midwest Book Review

"In this long-awaited collection of twelve translated short stories and an essay on Agent Orange by Vietnamese writers, the hefty environmental and physical consequences of the Vietnam War are for the first time exposed through literature, evoking the near-impossibility of healing after a war that destroyed nations, spirits, morals and many more . . . Intertwining histories and folklores with family memories and narratives, these stories share the burden and responsibility of portraying an intergenerational aspect of dioxin contamination, evoking both a borderless empathy and difficult moral choices for a quiet reconciliation."
Cerise Press

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This collection of twelve short stories and one essay by Vietnamese writers reveals the tragic legacy of Agent Orange and raises troubling moral questions about the physical, spiritual, and environmental consequences of war.

Between 1962 and 1971, the U.S. military sprayed approximately twenty million gallons of Agent Orange and other chemical defoliants on Vietnam and Laos, exposing combatants and civilians from both sides to the deadly contaminant dioxin. Many of the exposed, and later their children, suffered from ailments including diabetes, cancer, and birth defects.

This remarkably diverse collection represents a body of work published after the early 1980s that stirred sympathy and indignation in Vietnam, pressuring the Vietnamese government for support. “Thirteen Harbors” intertwines a woman’s love for a dioxin victim with ancient Cham legend and Vietnamese folk wisdom. “A Child, a Man” explores how our fates are bound with those of our neighbors. In “The Goat Horn Bell” and “Grace,” families are devastated to find the damage from Agent Orange passed to their newborn children. Eleven of the pieces appear in English for the first time, including an essay by Minh Chuyen, whose journalism helped publicize the Agent Orange victims’ plight. The stories in Family of Fallen Leaves are harrowing yet transformative in their ability to make us identify with the other.

Page count: 164 pp.
Trim size: 5.5 x 8.5


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Charles Waugh (left) is an assistant professor of English at Utah State University. He has lived in Vietnam several times over the last twelve years and his stories and essays about those experiences have appeared in the Sycamore Review, Flyway, Pilgrimage, the Wisconsin Review, Proteus, and ISLE. Nguyen Lien, (right) who writes under the pen name Huy Lien, is a professor emeritus of literature at Vietnam National University and has translated such works as The Glass Menagerie and The Prince of Tides into Vietnamese. Waugh and Lien received a Rockefeller Fellowship to edit and translate the narratives in this anthology.