Fourth Uncle in the Mountain The Remarkable Legacy of a Buddhist Itinerant Doctor in Vietnam

Quang Van Nguyen and Marjorie Pivar

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

368 Pages



Request Desk Copy Request Exam Copy
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.


Praise for Fourth Uncle in the Mountain

"A magical book, literally and figuratively, the autobiography of a 'monk' in the tradition of Buu Son Ky Huong, a millenarian folk-Buddhist-Daoist tradition from Southwest Vietnam. Spanning decades of what we in America call the 'Vietnam War,' the memoir tells a rich, first-person tale of a vanishing lifeway in a vanishing culture . . . A pleasure to read, the book brings back a culture now distant in time, as well as space, with both specificity and sensuality. Vietnamese American readers may be particularly moved and enriched by the book's evocation of their historical and cultural legacy. The accessible style makes the book appropriate for undergraduate as well as graduate courses. It would fit naturally in courses on indigenous religions and on religion and healing. In Buddhist studies, it would be valuable in courses on Buddhism in practice as well as, of course, Buddhism and healing. Additionally, I can imagine excerpting chapters as bracing additions and antidotes to the usual fare in Buddhist survey courses."—Franz Metcalf, Journal of Global Buddhism
"An amazing, wonderful, and absolutely unique contribution to our knowledge of modern Vietnamese culture."—Keith W. Taylor, Chair, Department of Asian Studies, Cornell University
"This is a magical, mesmerizing story; a complicated tale of Vietnam’s anguished history, of healing and faith, and of a young boy’s miraculous coming of age."—Ken Burns, Director of Jazz and The Civil War
"It is important for every student and graduate of acupuncture schools everywhere to understand the true meaning and traditional genesis of this medicine as they might have learned it as an apprentice . . . This is a necessary journey each of us can take thanks to Dr. Van Nguyen and Margie Pivar in Fourth Uncle in the Mountain."—Leon Hammer, MD, renowned doctor of Oriental Medicine, President of Dragon Rises College of Oriental Medicine
"A great interpreter—that is, an intelligent and generous one—is rare. Just as rare as understanding between our distant worlds . . . Fourth Uncle reads in the direct and confident phrasing and tone true to a "barefoot doctor." That is to say, there is no National-Geographic-like emotional distancing ("these noble, if quaint, peoples believe that"). There are no well-meaning interpreter's estimates of what hip American readers are likely to understand. Fourth Uncle in the Mountain is a great story about two simply good men. It is told simply, but simplicity should never be mistaken for a lack of emotional complexity, intellectual refinement, or overwhelming humanity."—The Asian Reporter
"[A] charming book . . . the volume contains a wealth of information about Vietnamese history and culture . . . an adventure book strung through with passages on selflessness and mindfulness, this volume is an excellent choice for readers interested in Vietnam and Buddhism."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Chapter One 
My Father Comes for Me
July 1959
Cai Mon Village, Mekong Delta, South Vietnam
One hot day in July, I looked up at the flesh-eating sun and taunted, "I can lick you with a flick of my hand. Oh, you don't believe me? Well, didn't you know that my father is the most powerful sorcerer in Vietnam? He can go to the forbidden mountain anytime he wants to. Watch out, I'm going to squash you like a lightning bug." I sucked in my breath so strong that I sucked the storm clouds closer and closer together until they banged into each other and snuffed
Read the full excerpt


  • Quang Van Nguyen and Marjorie Pivar

  • 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.