Le Ly (Hayslip)
The narrator. Le Ly is a Vietnamese peasant who grows up on the
central coast of Vietnam. She leaves Vietnam in 1970 for the United States with
her American husband and two children. In 1986, she returns to Vietnam for the
first time to visit her family. The memoir recounts important events of her
childhood and adolescence in Vietnam and her experiences on her return
Tran Thi Huyen
The mother of six children, including Le Ly. Huyen teaches Le Ly
about her duties as a woman in Vietnamese society. Beautiful and hard-working,
Huyen marries Trong because they are in love. She is expelled from the village
by the Viet Cong and moves with Le Ly to Saigon and Danang. When her daughter
returns to Vietnam in 1986, Huyen is the embodiment of the resilient strength of
Le Ly’s father, with whom she shares a special bond. Trong works as a
subsistence rice farmer and is also a devout Buddhist. When all of his children
and his wife are forced to leave the village, he remains at their home to tend
to their ancestral shrine. Lonely and depressed without his family and broken by
war, he commits suicide by drinking acid. His Buddhist philosophies about the
nature of war and forgiveness govern Le Ly throughout her life.
Le Ly’s eldest sister. Hai’s husband leaves to fight with the Viet
Cong early in their marriage and is never seen again. She lives in Saigon with
her daughter Tinh until her father’s death, when she returns to the family home
to tend to the land and the family shrine.
Huyen and Phong’s second daughter. After Ba’s husband leaves for the
North, his cousin Chin, a local Republican official, bullies her into marrying
him. Ba hoards all of the gifts that Le Ly sends from the United States, causing
a rift with the rest of the family. She is accepted back only after Le Ly
convinces her mother of the importance of forgiveness.
Le Ly’s eldest brother. Bon Nghe is Huyen’s favorite child. He spends
the duration of the war fighting with the Viet Cong and becomes a Communist
Party official after the war. He later settles with his wife and son in Danang.
Bon Nghe has the greatest number of reservations about Le Ly’s return visit to
Vietnam, but after discussing her intentions, they are able to find a common
The fourth child in the family. Lan moves to Danang, where she works
in bars as a tea girl and has many American boyfriends. Le Ly lives with her
while pregnant with her first child, and Lan treats her poorly until Le Ly saves
her from a boyfriend’s drunken attack. Lan immigrates to the United States after
Le Ly does.
The second youngest child. Sau Ban is artistic and caring, and he is
Le Ly’s closest friend and playmate when they are young. Soon after his
marriage, he is drafted into the Republican forces, despite numerous attempts to
join the Viet Cong. After months of no contact with his family, he is presumed
dead, although Le Ly never gives up hope of finding him.
Hai’s husband. Bac Lac goes to Hanoi at the beginning of the war and
Daughter of Hai and Bac Lac, Tinh is Le Ly’s niece. Tinh warmly
accepts her into her home for her homecoming.
Tinh’s husband. Bien is a kind man who helps Le Ly reunite with her
family in Danang.
A wealthy businessman for whom Le Ly and her mother work in Saigon.
Anh and Le Ly fall in love and have a child. He keeps in touch with her after
her move to the United States and acts as her guide when she returns to Vietnam.
His relationship with Le Ly is one of deep, familial love, and he seems to
regret not being more of a part of her life.
in-depth analysis of Anh.
Anh’s first wife. Lien is wealthy but in very poor health. Le Ly acts
as her personal maid but Lien throws Le Ly out when she discovers that Le Ly is
carrying Anh’s child.
Anh’s second wife. Yen warmly welcomes Le Ly to their home when she
returns to Saigon.
Le Ly’s oldest son, fathered by Anh. Jimmy is raised by his
grandmother while Le Ly works in the souvenir trade business in Danang. When Le
Ly returns to Vietnam, Jimmy is attending college. Jimmy and his brothers do not
want their mother to return to her homeland.
Le Ly’s middle child, fathered by Ed Monroe. Tommy is born in Danang
a few months before Le Ly leaves for the United States.
Le Ly’s youngest child. Alan is born in the United States. Being the
youngest of the brothers, Alan is the most worried about his mother’s journey to
The Norwegian in the UN employ. Per helps Le Ly by giving her
information and support on her way from the Philippines to Vietnam on her return
A relative of Le Ly’s family. Uncle Luc lives in Ka Ly and is an
original supporter of the Viet Cong. He helps Le Ly and her family out of
trouble many times.
Huyen’s aunt, who helps raise her after Huyen’s parents dies. Thu
dies during a French-led bomb attack.
A member of the local Viet Cong. Loi tortures and rapes Le Ly instead
of killing her as he had been instructed.
A member of the local Viet Cong. Mau also tortures and rapes Le
Le Ly’s first American boyfriend. Red is a nerdy medical technician
in the hospital where Le Ly works. He convinces Le Ly to change her peasant
appearance into a sexier city one, quit her job, and work as a dancer in a club.
However, after discovering that the club is topless, Le Ly walks out on Red and
his job offer.
A half-Chinese, half-Irish-American civilian contractor who dates and
lives with Le Ly. An angry and abusive drunk, Jimmy is removed from Saigon after
Le Ly places a complaint with the local MPs.
The Air force officer who dates and lives with Le Ly. Paul is a
Texan, and he and Le Ly share similar views about the importance of land and
family. He leaves without notice and is reassigned to the United
A GI who works on one of the bases. Mike is friendly toward Le Ly.
One day, he pimps her to two GIs for $400.
An older American who approaches Le Ly, looking for companionship. Ed
is sweet and caring and asks Le Ly to marry him and accompany him to the United
States. They emigrate shortly thereafter.
A black-market profiteer whom Le Ly pays to get her birth certificate
and other papers in order to leave the country.
A wealthy man from Bai Gian. Cou Loi is a family friend. After the
attacks on his village, Cou Loi and his family are made homeless beggars. Cou
Loi is representative of many who lost everything in the war.
Cou Loi’s daughter and Le Ly’s friend. Thien is tortured incessantly
by the Viet Cong and eventually disappears.
A Ka Ly village girl who is one of the first to go to Saigon and
report back on the wonders of the city. Bich teaches Le Ly about make-up, high
heels, and electricity.
Sau Ban’s wife. Nham and Sau Ban are married shortly before Sau Ban
is forced into the Republican guard. When he is presumed dead, she returns to
her family. Nham is representative of many young Vietnamese women left without
husbands due to the war.
The chauffeur during Le Ly’s state-sponsored tour of the countryside.
At first he is reserved toward Le Ly, but eventually he opens up and shares his
real thoughts on the situation in Vietnam.