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Mekong Belle - Love's Impossible Choice

Mekong Belle
Love’s Impossible choice

Rob Allen, an American Navy officer straight out of Officer Candidate School, arrives in Vietnam, a country he knows little about, wondering why he is there and what he is expected to do. He is assigned to a ship that will become a modern version of a 19th-century Mississippi showboat.

Melanie Marquis (aka Tran Vi Gian), like many Vietnamese, manages as best she can to survive a violent civil war where being neutral keeps her at odds with all sides. Born in Vietnam, orphaned as a child, and then educated in France by the French woman living in Vietnam who adopted her, she longs to become a journalist, telling the story of her country’s struggle from the inside. But, her relationship with, and love for, her mother conflicts with her ambition.

Rob and Melanie meet by chance in a small bookstore in the southern port city of Vung Tau. He is instantly captivated by her eyes and the lilt in her voice. She is intrigued by his innocence and honest interest in understanding her country.

Even as Rob and his shipmates wrestle with the wacky task of converting a WW II landing ship into a floating musical theater, crewed by musicians, singers, and dancers, and sail it up rivers, he and Melanie meet again, this time at the elegant old colonial restaurant operated by her mother and frequented by American and Australians stationed in the Mekong.

Rob agrees to help Melanie in her quest to become a journalist. The more time they’re together, the more Melanie’s reserve breaks down. She allows herself to love him. The brutal war edges closer, but as lovers, they occupy a separate world where war doesn’t exist.

Rob’s ship, nicknamed the “Mekong Belle,” begins its mission as a showboat, sailing up the rivers of the Mekong Delta, bringing comfort in the form of live music and hot food to the troops stationed in remote, frequently attacked jungle bases. The village of Vung Tau continues to be their re-supply base, allowing Rob and Melanie just enough precious time for their love to exist.

They both understand the delicate and uncertain balance on which their romance rests and how certain it is that it cannot survive the impossible choices that lie ahead.

When all hell breaks loose around them on the evening of TET, the lunar new year, they know that time has come.

Rob has no choice but to follow orders, and has a plan to see Melanie to safety in France, where, because of her mother, she has the rights of a French citizen. But Melanie feels a stronger loyalty to her native country, and rejects his idea, accepting instead a job as a correspondent and translator for a foreign press service covering the war.

Always the realist in their relationship, she knows that there is little possibility that they will see each other again. At their bittersweet parting, she tells Rob that he will find another true love someday. Rob, the hopeless romantic, clings to the hope that somehow, some way, they will be together. He holds onto that dream, even when he learns months later that Melanie’s news team is missing somewhere along the border between Vietnam and Laos.

Her declaration that Rob will find love again comes true, and surprisingly so does his hope of seeing her again.