The 46-year-old wanted to take a fresh approach.
“I wanted to show the Vietnam war and Vietnamese history from another angle, from the angle of Vietnamese women,” she says, adding: “I could see that women are the people who bear the burden of the war.”
She believes it is vital to help people see there’s more to the country than the war, hailing it as a place full of complexity, colors, culture.
Born in 1973, Que Mai spent most of her childhood in the south in the post-war years after her father, a teacher, was relocated from the north.
They moved to the tip of the Mekong Delta in 1979, where the land was lush and fertile, but bullet shells had to be removed in order to plant rice, she recalls.
Like many people at the time in Vietnam — which was under a US embargo — they were dirt poor and her family rarely had enough to eat.
She rose every day at 4:30 am to catch shrimps in nearby rice fields before heading to school. After class, she would sell water spinach and cigarettes on the street.
Despite reunification on April 30, 1975, division between the north and south was as tangible as ever, she says, recounting a terrifying first night in her new home.
“I was eating dinner and I heard a ‘boom’ — someone had thrown a rock at our house,” Que Mai says. “The southern people considered us invaders.”
Four decades on, many of these old wounds have yet to be healed.
For those who fought in the brutal conflict with the US and for the family members left behind, there is still unresolved trauma, she insists.