From the beginning of the hostilities, Le Ly’s father tells her that the only true enemy is the war itself. During her experience in the war, Le Ly fights and befriends both the Americans and the Viet Cong. She suffers brutalities from many different fronts: cruel punishment from Republican guards, rape and near death from the Viet Cong, and brutality and degradation from American GIs. She also has positive experiences with all sides, making it difficult for her to determine who was the enemy. With her father’s death, Le Ly begins to truly understand this. By comprehending that war is the enemy, Le Ly is able to forgive those who wrong her and to heal her own war wounds. Her perspective of the war leaves her hopeful and strong, and although she never forgets the atrocities that took place, she is able to forgive and find peace in her own life.
Le Ly’s relationships with her family—especially her mother and father—inform her beliefs throughout the war and beyond. She and her sisters take care of each other in many ways. Even though there are problems between family members—Ba and Huyen have differences over the gifts, Le Ly and Sau Ban over ideology—the family remains connected. Seeking to reestablish this connection with her family, Le Ly returns to her homeland after an absence of seventeen years. The result of her journey is her discovery that despite war wounds and different life paths, the strength and bond of family is unshakable. The war separates and displaces many families and disconnects people from their ancestors, but at the end, Le Ly finds a deeper connection with her family and draws strength from it.
Le Ly’s identity transforms numerous times due to the war: from daughter to mother, dependent to provider, country to city girl, Viet Cong spy to black market profiteer. Her father changes from a strong father of six to a single man living alone. Ultimately, he kills himself because he cannot handle this change. Rich men become beggars in the village. Many lose their homes, their farms, their children, and their lives. Farmers become soldiers and children become spies. On her return to Vietnam, Le Ly sees the continuation of the changes: Anh transforms from a rich business man to an impoverished worker, her sisters changes from proud farmers into market vendors, and her brother changes from a friend into a suspicious stranger.