Monique Brinson Demery ’98 made her first trip to Vietnam as a William Smith student and has written her first book based on that experience and much research since then. “Finding the Dragon Lady: The Mystery of Vietnam’s Madame Nhu” was published last month by PublicAffairs.
Demery’s book chronicles her search for Madame Nhu, the infamous and controversial first lady of the former Republic of South Vietnam. Nhu is remembered for her fiery attitude and controversial politics, particularly during the time leading up to the Vietnam War, earning her the nickname “Dragon Lady” in Western media.
After her husband and brother-in-law, the president of South Vietnam, were killed in a military coup in 1963, aided by the United States, Nhu was condemned to a lifetime of exile. A once powerful figure in international politics faded into the periphery until eventually going into complete seclusion in 1986. There was little public knowledge of her from that point until Demery, curious as to why such an important figure had been completely forgotten, set off to find her.
In 2005, Demery tracked down Nhu in Paris and she agreed to speak with her. Demery’s initial interviews with Nhu were the first time she had spoken to Western press in nearly 20 years. These interviews began five years of correspondence between the two. Their exchanges can be described as a game of “cat and mouse” with Nhu “constantly testing Demery and holding herself just out of reach.”
Nhu passed away in 2011, and Demery later obtained her old diary and a copy of her unpublished memoirs.
In “Finding the Dragon Lady,” Demery recounts her own experiences with Nhu while also tying in the woman’s early life, political career, and years in exile.
Demery’s book has been called “the last untold story of the Vietnam war,” by David Lamb, author of “Vietnam, Now: A Reporter Returns.”
A recent article in “The Daily Beast” describes the book: “It’s a deeply intriguing, occasionally problematic work, one that struggles to find its way into the inner character of a narrator so unreliable, she makes Patrick Bateman look like a straight shooter-a woman still intoxicated by her faded glory and half mad from years as a recluse who comes across as ambivalently needy and terribly arrogant, conniving and pitiable, and shrewdly astute, often all at once.”
Demery graduated from William Smith with a bachelor of arts in French and political science. She was a recipient of a U.S. Department of Education grant to attend the Vietnamese Advanced Summer Institute in Hanoi, and in 2003 she graduated from Harvard University with a master’s degree in East Asia regional studies.