Over the Moat
Love Among the Ruins of Imperial Vietnam
By James Sullivan
(Picador, Paperback, 9780312422370, 368pp.)
Publication Date: January 2004
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In the fall of 1992, James Sullivan travels to Vietnam to bicycle from Saigon to Hanoi. He has just finished graduate school and has an assignment to write a magazine story about a country that is still subject to a U.S. trade embargo. But in Hue, the old imperial capital of Vietnam, the planned three-month bike trip takes a detour. Here, in a city spliced by the famed Perfume River and filled with French baroque villas, he finds himself bicycling over a moat to visit a beautiful shop girl who lives amid the ruins of the last imperial dynasty of Vietnam. She falls for him, but there's a catch. Several other suitors are vying for her hand, and one of them is an official with the city's police force. Over the Moat is the story of Sullivan's efforts to win Thuy's favor while immersing himself in Vietnamese culture, of kindly insinuating himself in Thuy's colorful and warm family, and of learning how to create a common language based on love and understanding.
James Sullivan was born and raised in Quincy, Massachusetts, and attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop. His journalism has appeared in a number of national magazines. He lives with his wife Thuy and their two children in Scarborough, Maine.
"Cultures clash, but love conquers, with some fascinating twists and plenty of intimate details." --Kirkus Reviews
"Over the Moat tells a tale we sorely need to hear at this moment in history...Elegantly written, redolent of our universal humanity, this is an important book." --Robert Olen Butler, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain
"What a wonderful premise for a novel. But Over the Moat isn't fiction: it's a true story. Sullivan's tenacity, passion, luck, and the purity of his love come through in his prose, and he has succeeded admirably both in the telling of this story and in the living of it." --Abraham Verghese, author of My Own Country
"Over the Moat takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of the country and the culture, never letting us forget that, as Americans, we're just visitors." --Stewart O'Nan, author of The Names of the Dead and editor of The Vietnam Reader
"James Sullivan has written a brilliant, intimate account of desperation. Cast within the layered textures of contemporary Vietnam, this is a vivid book with irresistible underpinnings: desire and discovery." --Lewis Robinson, author of Officer Friendly
"Here is a book that carries us on a thoughtful journey along the crowded boulevards of dreams and the unlit paths of love and human understanding, in a distant place where we turn a corner and catch an unexpected glimpse of ourselves. It is a gift." --Don J. Synder, author of The Cliff Walk
"Over the Moat is a fine piece of writing. Here is a story about modern Vietnam. Here is the much celebrated city of Hue. Here are two lovers trying their best despite language and culture to merely and genuinely be in love. What could be simpler?" --Larry Heinemann, author of the National Book Award-winning Paco's Story