Lean In Like a Queen by Kim Do, Jessamine Price, and Dorie Clark | Books in Review

Kim Do is a Saigon-born Vietnamese-American lawyer who grew up attending Catholic masses. She has a law degree from the University of Washington, and lives in Saigon with her husband and two children.

Her short book,  Lean In Like A Queen: 17 Lessons from the Last Queen of Vietnam’s Daring Negotiations (Amazon Digital Services, 80 pp.,  $2.99, Kindle), written with Jessamine Price and Dorie Clark, starts off with a chapter telling the story of the titular queen (who was born Jeanne Mariette Therese Nguyen Huu Thi Lan and later known as Queen Nam Phuong)—where she came from, her forebears, the source of their immense wealth, her education, and how she met and married Bao Dai,  the last Vietnamese Emperor.

The marriage negotiations take up a lot of space and form the philosophical center of the book. One reason is that the marriage negotiations broke dynastic tradition and rules. That included getting a “one wife, one husband” deal for herself, a departure from tradition.

The Foreword explains the whole “Leaning In” concept, which was all new to me. It also tells the reader that the book “offers a compelling window into gender relations and the sociopolitical forces that shaped the 20th Century, ” and sets out contemporary lessons “we can draw from the Queen’s savvy maneuvering.”

The Queen and the Emperor

Do’s book did help this reader better understand better an era of Vietnamese history that had hitherto eluded me—and she did it in a concise, succinct, and interesting way.

The “Leaning In” and “17 Lessons” ideas, though, seem more of a marketing ploy, and aren’t necessary to make the book relevant to American readers.  Any reader with a curiosity about this forgotten period in Vietnam when the French colonialists and the French-educated, Roman Catholic Vietnamese colluded and made huge fortunes on the backs of the peasant Vietnamese will find this book of interest to read on their Kindle. The book certainly helps explain why communist and nationalist forces were eager to rid their country of the Imperial Vietnamese system.

The author’s grandfather was a billionaire when most of his non-French speaking fellow countrymen were starving in near-slavery. Kim Do does a fine job showing the reader what the life of a rich Vietnamese family was like before World War II forever changed everything.

—David Willson


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