PORTRAIT OF THE ENEMY by David & Doan Van Toai Chanoff


Email this review


An oral history, for the first time bringing to the West a perception of what it was like to fight on the side of the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese Army. Chanoff and Doan have previously collaborated in publishing A Vietcong Memoir and The Vietnamese Gulag. Through the stories of a handful of soldiers and southern opposition leaders, several of whom provide a biographic thread connecting the whole, we are shown that ""disillusionment, cynicism, family conflicts, and deep psychological trauma were as pervasive on the other side as on our own."" We learn that wounded North Vietnamese veterans were given a treatment by their homeland far worse than any experienced or perceived by returning American soldiers. The authors depict soldiers ""born into a social matrix that considered self-sacrifice a normal concomitant of the human condition."" Indeed, they have done well in drawing these people out. In addition to the fear of reprisals by ardent Vietnamese anticommunists, the authors had heavy doses of inscrutability to deal with. But draw them out they do and the result is often a staccato burst of insight, as when one ex-VC assassin says, describing his stabbing to death of a young woman sentenced to death by the VC, ""I regret that I killed her while she was pregnant. I should have waited for her delivery."" A good start to what should begin an accumulation of books making sense of the war in Vietnam, as we move into the second decade since its end.

Pub Date: Sept. 26th, 1986
Publisher: Random House