Lan Cao ’83

  • Author of “Monkey Bridge” and “The Lotus and the Storm”
Alum Lan Cao ’83 during Commencement 2023

Lan Cao ’83 is an accomplished law professor who turned her experience as a South Vietnamese refugee during the Vietnam War into critically acclaimed novels: “Monkey Bridge” and “The Lotus and the Storm.”

After pursuing degrees at Mount Holyoke and Yale Law School, Cao became a litigation and corporate attorney at a prominent New York City firm and clerked for a federal judge. In 1991 she was named a Ford Foundation Scholar. She served on the William & Mary Law School faculty for more than a decade and currently serves as the Betty Hutton Williams Professor of International Economic Law at Chapman University’s Dale E. Fowler School of Law, specializing in international business and trade, international law and development.

“Monkey Bridge” is the semi-autobiographical story of Mai Nguyen, a Vietnamese girl sent to America — before Saigon collapsed — to live with an American soldier her family befriended. Her mother also managed to escape but left Mai’s father behind in the chaos of the final hours. In Northern Virginia, Mai and her mother struggle to forge new lives.

“The Lotus and the Storm” is set in a close-knit refugee community four decades after the Vietnam War. The lives of Minh and Mai, father and daughter, are haunted by ghosts, secrets and the loss of their country. During the disastrous last days in Saigon, Mai never had a chance to say goodbye to many people who meant so much to her.

Class year: 1983 
Majors: politics; Doctor of Humane Letters, 2023