Cover image for Fourth uncle in the mountain : a memoir of a barefoot doctor in Vietnam
Fourth uncle in the mountain : a memoir of a barefoot doctor in Vietnam
Nguyen, Quang Van.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
352 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Personal Subject:
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GR313.Q83 Q83 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Set during the French and American wars, Fourth Uncle in the Mountain is a true story about an orphan, Quang Van Nguyen, who is adopted by a sixty-four year old monk, Thau, who carries great responsibility for his people as a barefoot doctor. Thau manages, against all odds to raise his son to follow in his footsteps and in doing so, saves his son, as well as a part of Vietnam's esoteric knowledge from the Vietnam holocaust.Thau is wanted by the French regime, and occasionally must flee into the jungle, where he is perfectly at home living among the animals. Thau is not the average monk; he practices an ancient lineage of Chinese medicine and uses magic to protect animals and help people.As wise and resourceful as Thau is, he meets his match in his mischievous son. Quang is more interested in learning Cambodian sorcery and martial arts than in developing his skills and wisdom according to his father's plan. Fourth Uncle in the Mountain is an odyssey of a single-father folk hero and his foundling son in a land ravaged by the atrocities of war. It is a classic story, complete with humor, tragedy, and insight from a country where ghosts and magic are real.

Author Notes

Quang Van Nguyen is the son of one of South Vietnam's most beloved spiritual leaders, Thau Van Nguyen. Quang became a Buddhist abbot before fleeing Vietnam in 1986. He now lives and practices traditional medicine in the United States. Marjorie Pivar has worked for the past twenty years as a Shiatsu therapist in the field of alternative medicine. She lives in Vermont.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Part memoir, part record of "a bygone culture," this charming book recounts Nguyen's extraordinary experiences in South Vietnam during the 1950s, '60s, '70s and '80s. An orphan whose parents were killed by French soldiers when he was a baby, Nguyen was adopted by Thau Van Nguyen, one of Vietnam's most respected spiritual leaders and faith healers. "My father told me about his religion... and about the responsibility he carried for our people," Nguyen writes in an early chapter. "He said that he was passing that responsibility on to me, and that over time I would master the skills and acquire enough power to be able to help many people, too." Nguyen's descriptions of years he spent training with an herbal medicine specialist, an acupuncturist and a near-mythical hermit called "Fourth Uncle" take up most of the book. But the volume also contains a wealth of information about Vietnamese history and culture, about popular beliefs in spirits and magic and about Nguyen's religion, Buu Son Ky Huong (a form of Buddhism). Presumably transcribed by co-author Pivar, a Shiatsu therapist, from what must have been hundreds of hours of recorded interviews with Nguyen (who has been living in Vermont since 1986), the text has the inescapable, unsophisticated feel of an oral history. This plain style sometimes heightens the wonderland mood of the book, which combines gritty passage about war with accounts of playing with jungle animals, meditating for days on end, trapping ghosts insides jars and winning martial arts tournaments. An adventure book strung through with passages on selflessness and mindfulness, this volume is excellent choice for readers interested in Vietnam and Buddhism.. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal Review

In 1950, an abandoned infant in Vietnam is taken in by a 64-year-old monk, who raises him as his own son. He teaches the boy traditional healing arts and guides him to a number of teachers so that he may learn plant medicine, acupuncture, and Chinese characters. Without his father's knowledge, the boy also studies martial arts and sorcery. When he is 20, his father takes him to a forbidden mountain, where he stays for three years in a cave with his father's teacher, known as Fourth Uncle. Here he learns about the "possibilities of human consciousness." This true story of Van Nguyen's life as a traditional healer in a war-torn country is interesting in itself. Even more important, it is a fine record of traditional Vietnamese life and culture and a glimpse into a world where magic, sorcery, and other realities exist. The narrative was constructed from transcribed conversations between Van Nguyen and Pivar, a Shiatsu therapist who was inspired to record Van Nguyen's story after he saved her son's life. Though the resulting narrative is sometimes stilted and disjointed, the strong character development compensates for this flaw. Recommended for academic and public libraries. Jerry Shuttle, East Tennessee State Univ. Lib., Johnson City (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.