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  • Published 20120904
  • ISBN: 9781921922596
  • Extent: 264 pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

I SUPPOSE HE was from the provinces, the heavily shelled country in the central highlands or further north, where Agent Orange left behind by the American military still seeps from the soil into waterways and poisons pregnant mothers. The result is tragic birth defects. One of the most common and most heartbreaking is encephalitis; though it is rarer on Saigon streets today, it was probable on any trip to Notre Dame Cathedral or Nha Tho Duc Ba (The Church of the Mother of God), as the locals call it, that you would see a mother with her child beside her on a towel, its head swollen to three times the size of a normal human head. Worse effects of the herbicide may be seen at Saigon’s War Museum, which leaves the conviction that this was the cruelest weapon ever employed in war.

Cuong was my friend’s name; I suppose he might have been considered lucky, for although his legs and arms were palsied, he could still walk, and could speak a few short words together before the effort exhausted him, and he had reached the age of forty. I met him on Christmas day, begging at the gate of the cathedral.

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