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October 27, 2017 11:34 pm

The Woman Behind “The Girl in the Picture”

Thursday, March 31, 2016 @ 3:50 AM

Prince George, B.C.-  It is a homecoming for author Denise Chong.

The critically acclaimed  author  of  “The Girl in the Picture,   The story of Kim Phuc, the Photograph,  and the  Vietnam War”, is returning to Prince George to  do  two public readings regarding this book.Her arrival coincides with  Kim Phuc’s  visit to Prince George  as the keynote speaker at the Dr. Bob Ewert Dinner on Saturday night.girl

The image of Phuc,   naked, crying and running, became the rallying cry against the war in Vietnam.  It was Chong’s publisher who  connected the author with Phuc.  “When Kim Phuc defected to Canada, she sought asylum and entered the country.  She had been living here for about  3 or four years and she acquired a lawyer who was representing her because she wanted to sell  her book rights.  So my publisher called me  and asked ‘would you be interested?’ so that’s how we got together.”

Chong developed a close relationship with Phuc’s family  during her research for the book,  and says Phuc’s story  is nothing short of inspiring, but the  people of Vietnam  were  also  sources  of  inspiration when she travelled there to do research ” I found people who helped me, for example I found someone who translated for me because they didn’t get a chance to escape to the West. They had a chance,  they could have boarded a U.S. helicopter but they didn’t and they have regretted it ever since, now she and her daughter are living so poorly in Vietnam,  so they wanted to help me.  The Doctors who treated  child victims in Vietnam during the war,  and they were inspiring, so  under the  torment and tumult of war, you can find various inspiring figures.”

Chong  was raised in Prince George,  and  now lives in Ottawa where she spent  many years working with former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.  An expert in Economics,  she served as an  advisor to the former Primer Minister.   She was in her late 20s when  she  landed  work  with Pierre Trudeau, a posting she says was “tremendous luck”.   “So when he retired I thought  to myself,   I  don’t think I can surpass this work experience, I am now going to  do what I  always wanted to do, write.”

Her writing has been recognized since  she was  a child in Prince George “I remember writing a piece for the Prince George  Fall Fair when I was 6 years old, and winning it.  I always wanted to do that (write).”

Four books behind her,  Chong is now working on her 5th project,  which  she isn’t ready to go public  about  just yet  “I am immersed in the writing life  for sure.”

Still, her  extensive  background in economics  gives her a certain perspective “Over the decades,   I am obviously still an economist.  It’s formed the rigour of my thinking,  it lets  me see the world in a certain social context.  So when it comes to storytelling, that’s what I see myself as, as a writer.”

It is sad to think Kim Phuc’s story is not that far removed from the situation facing  Syrians today “Kim came here, she was a child.  You think about that little boy whose body  washed up on a Turkish beach,  they are refugees, Kim  was a refugee, she came here with nothing.  When I first met her she was going to the food bank.  You come here as a refugee,  you have to adapt,   it’s kind of a perennial story.”

Denise Chong will be  doing readings from her book  “The Girl in the Picture” tomorrow  at UNBC’s main campus  at 7 pm in the Canfor Theatre,  another at UNBC’s campus in Quesnel  on Monday at 6 pm in the Atrium.    On Thursday the  7th, she will be   offering  a free workshop on memoire writing and family  stories at Books on Company from 7-8:30 pm.


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