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When Heaven & Earth Changed Places – Review

by: Hayslip, Le Ly with Jay Wurts

Publisher: PLUME Books

Copyright: 1989

Type: Softcover

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 10/5/1994

Summary: Highly Recommended. Vietnamese girl growing to adulthood in war torn Vietnam. Turned into a movie by Oliver Stone in 1993.

Reprinted from Crushies Book Review, October 1994 Volume I, Issue No. 5:

In reading this book, I came upon a sentence on some page or other where my mind just suddenly flipped on a sequence of thought un-related to the subject matter at hand. This often happens during reading. It does not often happen when viewing a movie. There is no time. In reading a book, especially a good book, there is time to explore the unexplored, even if not by conscious choice. For some, especially Vietnam veterans and those who were actively involved in protesting the Vietnam war, this book will cause a few divergent thoughts. The read is definitely worth the distractions.

Hayslip’s WHEN HEAVEN AND EARTH CHANGED PLACES is the only work encountered thus far which gives more than it takes from telling of events related to the Vietnam War. The giving is in the rich tapestry it weaves of an agrarian culture being changed into something else–a communist utopia, a capitalist market place, or simply a culture in flux–a culture shaken from its roots and tossed upon the seas of international geopolitics never to find its identity again. It is amazing to experience this transition on the pages of HEAVEN AND EARTH because there is no ideology here, no polemic exercises on right and wrong. It is just the story of a young Vietnamese girl growing into adulthood.

Le Ly starts life as a farm girl, is coerced into being the eyes and ears of the Vietcong, becomes a victim of torture and rape, becomes a house servant and mother, a black marketer, a hospital orderly and finally, a wife on her way to America. It is the story of Le Ly’s transition. But as you experience the events of her life, as you follow the divergent paths of her brothers and sisters, the struggle of her mother and father to survive the disintegration of their family, you know more is in transition than just these people. You know that the cultural foundation of their perspective upon the world is also in transition. Hayslip captures and transforms this majestic flux in a style and simplicity that forces you to see beyond the Vietnam War and truly see the individuals whom the war effects.

The over-riding message coming through Le Ly’s story is stated on page 215 when she writes, “. . .a determination to live, no matter what, was more powerful than a willingness to die.” The rationale here is very simple: if we are willing to live rather than die for the things we believe in, we learn to separate the little things of life from the really important things–like love and understanding. With a willingness to live, we learn to nurture the patience to change. With a willingness to live, we can put aside our inclination to turn to war and violence as a solution for our fear of change. For Le Ly, time bore the fruit of that learning. She returned to Vietnam in 1986 to have a reunion with her family.

You get the sense from reading Heaven and Earth that the culture that was Vietnamese prior to the war did not die as a result of the war nor was that culture exported and transplanted along with the refugees who escaped the turmoil in the war’s aftermath. But change happened; a transformation from what was to what could be. The bottom line is that

When Heaven and Earth Changed Places is an inspirational book as well as a learning book.

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