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Interview with David Lamb

Author of Vietnam, Now - A Reporter Returns

Interview by Allison Martin

Award winning journalist David Lamb discusses the surprises he encountered in his return to Vietnam after so many years, and provides advice for adoptive parents.

What inspired you to write your book, Vietnam, Now? What do you wish to accomplish?

David Lamb: I had a rare opportunity, in returning to discover the fruits of peace in a country I had known only as a battlefield. In both my articles for the Los Angeles Times and in my book, "Vietnam, Now" I wanted to share my discovery with the hope readers would come to view Vietnam as a country, not a war. I left Vietnam after four years last summer with a deep respect for the county and with Vietnamese friends who will be friends for life.

What surprised you the most upon you return to Vietnam, following the war and re-establishment of relations?

David Lamb: Like most Americans, I guess what surprised me the most was the warmth and friendship with which the Vietnamese receive us at all levels. This response is absolutely genuine. The Vietnamese, perhaps better than the Americans, have relegated the war to the past. To stay haunted by the past, they believe, is to deny the country passage into the future--and the economic and educational opportunities everyone so desperately wants.

You talked to so many people from different walks of life during your sojourn in Vietnam. Which interview did you find to be most stirring?

David Lamb: I had many memorable encounters, but I think the one that was the most stirring was traveling with a prominent doctor from Hanoi to his family reunion near the old demilitarized zone. The reunion was in the home of his 92-year-old mother. The family had been split by the war--with the doctor going to the North as a young man and his two brothers staying in the South to fight for the Saigon regime. The peace had reunited the family--a perfect metaphor, I thought, for all of Vietnam.

What should people from other countries be aware of in their dealings with Vietnamese people and Vietnam?

David Lamb: The Vietnamese, particularly those in the North, are in many ways shy and reserved. Don't be pushy. Be patient. Be respectful of elders. Age really matters everywhere in Asia. Don't expect the directness we take for granted in the United States. Yes doesn't always mean "yes" and no can mean "maybe." This isn't deception; it's just the Asian way.

What advice do you have for adoptive parents?

David Lamb: First, I had a lot of American friends who adopted Vietnamese kids and I don't know one who doesn't consider himself/herself blessed. But I think any family considering adoption would be well advised to learn something of Vietnam's rich history and culture. Take time to find out what happened to Vietnam after 1975 when the guns fell silent. It will add to the family's appreciation of Vietnam.


David Lamb, the author of Vietnam, Now, is the only newspaper correspondent from the Vietnam War to later live in peacetime Hanoi. A distinguished Los Angeles Times journalist, he is the author of five previous books. He has been a Nieman Fellow, an Alicia Patterson Fellow, a Pew Fellow and a writer-in-residence at the University of Southern California's School of Journalism.

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