My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This was an interesting novel to read. You see, it’s deeply anti-American and pro-Vietnamese and I think it would have helped to know these facts before delving into it, as it’s about a CIA agent inserted into South Vietnam three days before the fall of Saigon. You would think it would be a CIA thriller. It’s not. If you’re a die hard American “patriot,” you’ll probably be offended by the book. If, however, you can disassociate yourself from the politics and just enjoy the book for what it is, it’s not a bad book.
A CIA agent, MacShane, who’s never been to Vietnam and who’s worked in Bolivia and Brazil, as well as possibly Chile, doing some underhanded stuff there for the CIA, is sent to Vietnam as it’s about to fall to the NVA, for the purpose of spying on the Vietnamese and possibly destabilizing their new government, as well as establishing contacts and building resistance. It sounds unlikely, but if you can get past that, then you’re into the book. He arrives, Saigon falls, he stays, pretending to be a journalist. But his cover is blown and he is captured. And you immediately think, oh no, because everyone’s heard of the North Vietnamese atrocities. But he’s treated well. He’s surprised. He’s interrogated, yes, but it’s not bad and he’s not tortured and he’s given decent food and cigarettes and is allowed to exercise and wander the grounds. After awhile, he’s transported to Hanoi, where he’s taken to the Hanoi Hilton, although it’s not referred to as such in this book. Again, he’s treated well. It’s been decided that he’s going to be “re-educated,” so a professor comes to interact with him every day and they converse about all sorts of things. And he starts questioning his country’s action and intents. Everywhere he sees bomb damage, but happy people going about their business. Everyone he meets has lost relatives in the war and are possibly scarred, but they all treat him well.
After a couple of months of this, he’s told he’s going to be taken out into the countryside to work in a labor camp. He panics. He decides to escape. Security is lax, so he does and escapes to the Red Cross in a hotel, who are assholes to him. Still, he spends the night with them, determined to go to the British Embassy the next morning for aid. And he does, but it’s closed. And he’s recaptured. And the military is pissed! He’s embarrassed them. After all of their good will. He’s taken to a tougher jail, but after about 10 days is taken a couple hours out of the city to a village where he will live and labor in the fields with the peasants. He knows virtually no Vietnamese and they know no English. Fortunately, there’s a school teacher in the next village who knows some English, so she becomes his interpreter and teacher. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s lovely. Turns out her entire family, as well as her fiance, were all killed by the US. Bombs fell everywhere. It’s made pretty clear in this book that the Vietnamese aren’t the ones committing torture, the US/CIA is. The Vietnamese aren’t the ones bombing villages, the US is. The US government commits murder, yet the Vietnamese people love the American people, with whom they have no argument. Sounds like a type of utopia, doesn’t it? MacShane begins to really enjoy farming with these people, who accept them as one of their own, and he falls in love with Ha, the school teacher, who falls in love with him. She knows the US will come get him some time, but he wants to stay there and marry her and be a farmer. She won’t hear of it. So his former boss, the asshole who betrayed him to the NVA, comes to Vietnam to rescue him and MacShane confronts him with his evidence. The official tries to cover up, but off they go into the sunset, back to America, leaving MacShane’s heart back in Vietnam forever.
Ah, romance. Seriously, a little iffy there. I did some Googling of the author. Turns out he’s a British left wing Labour Party politician who’s written several books, at least one of which has been turned into a movie. He’s so left wing, he scares his left wing colleagues. And his wife is Vietnamese. So I guess it should come as little surprise that he’s rabidly anti-American and pro-Vietnamese in this book. My “patriotic” inclination is to not like that, but since I’m feeling royally unpatriotic these days with all of these crazed Republican assholes running around like nutjobs claiming to be patriotic, maybe I’ll side with him. After all, I think we shouldn’t have been in Vietnam to begin with. It was a civil war and one we had no business intruding in. And as many atrocities as the North Vietnamese committed, and yes there were many, I’m sure the US committed their own as well. So, would I recommend this book? I’m not sure. Perhaps. But with the caveat that you go in with the foreknowledge that you know what you’re getting yourself into. If you do that, it’s an interesting book. Although, frankly, it’s not much of a thriller. Very little action. Not much at all. In fact, I’m not sure why I’m even giving it three stars. I guess because it was pretty original. Otherwise, two. Very, very cautiously recommended then.