Beautiful, Glamorous, Gun-Wielding: Monique Demery on Madame Nhu

Monique Demery with moderator Andrew Lam

Growing up in the U.S. during the Vietnam War, author Monique Demery was surrounded by what she calls “an abstract collage” of images coming out of Vietnam. Amongst these images, one particular icon stood out to her: South Vietnam’s First Lady, Madame Nhu. “She was the face of evil, and I had to know more,” Demerey explained.

When Demery read in a Vietnamese newspaper that Madame Nhu could see the Eiffel Tower from her apartment window, she traveled to Paris, knocking on the doors of every tall building in the area. With a lucky break, she found Madame Nhu, who agreed for the first time in 20 years to give an interview to a Westerner. Their conversations and Demery’s prodigious research led to Demery's new book, Finding the Dragon Lady. The Asia Society hosted her for a discussion of the book in San Francisco on October 24.

Drawing from what Demery describes as her “courtship” of the reclusive and mysterious Nhu, the book unravels the complexities and contradictions of the woman who served as the public face of U.S.-backed South Vietnam at the start of the war. From detailing Nhu’s public feud with Jacqueline Kennedy to the drastic reforms she supported in Vietnam as response to the military challenge from the communist North, the book digs into the life and times of the iconic firebrand. “Madame Nhu would have looked for her place in the world but there was no role model for her to follow. She had to forge her own way,” remarked Demery at the talk.

Finding the Dragon Lady offers a unique take on Vietnam at the onset of the war, one that Demery hopes can better define a people and place that remain so poorly understood in the West.

You can learn more about Demery and her book here: