I read this for the War Through the Generations blog challenge. Having studiously avoided most Vietnam War literature, I thought I could try one book written by a woman, about a woman. Okay, I tried it. It was good but it sure didn’t make me want to read more about that awful war.
The Man from Saigon is a novel about Susan Gifford, a reporter sent to Vietnam in the mid-1960’s by a women’s magazine to cover the “female angle” of the war. At first Susan spends her time following the nurses around the hospital but she quickly gets drawn into the larger aspects of the conflict and soon she’s going on patrols with the infantry, riding around in helicopters, and eventually being captured by a rogue band of Vietnamese soldiers. And who is the man from Saigon? He’s called Son, an enigmatic Vietnamese man who works as Susan’s photographer, translator, and guide, who is captured along with her, and who may or may not be working for the North Vietnamese. Susan and Son endure a harrowing march through the jungle before they are eventually rescued. The story is told in a combination of bloody realism and dreamlike flashbacks. Leimbach is a good writer and if you like this kind of thing, it’s an excellent book, complete with a gripping plot, interesting characters and lots of suspense. It just wasn’t for me.
I kept asking myself “why can I read so many books about World War II and can barely cope with the stress of this one Vietnam book?” I realized that much of what I read about World War II falls into the category of “home front” or “civilian” literature: stories (fiction and nonfiction) about regular people (not soldiers) whose lives were disrupted by the war, books about the resistance, books about the persecuted. Are there “home front” Vietnam books? The few that I’ve read keep the war at such arm’s length that they are almost not about the war at all but rather about the people who are decidedly NOT in the war. I’m thinking of In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason as one example. I have yet to find the Vietnam equivalent of a book like The Night Watch by Sarah Waters. Maybe it would have to be written in Vietnamese.
(Book 24, 2010)