DRAGON ASCENDING: Vietnam and the Vietnamese by Henry Kamm

DRAGON ASCENDING: Vietnam and the Vietnamese

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A sober, no-frills reportorial look at the present-day political and social climate in Vietnam, by a New York Times correspondent who has specialized in Asia for decades. Although Kamm covered the war in Vietnam, this is not an anecdote-strewn ""going back"" memoir. ""This is a book about Vietnam today,"" Kamm says in his preface, and ""its subject is Vietnam, not the American intrusion upon the life of Vietnam or the pain that America inflicted upon itself by its willful interference."" Kamm, a 1978 Pulitzer Prize winner for his reporting on Vietnam's ""boat people,"" only partially lives up to this promise. While indeed focusing on present-day Vietnam, he recounts the highlights of the American war, including two chapters that deal with the legacies of shameful American wartime ""intrusions"": the My Lei massacre of 1968 and the 1972 ""Christmas bombing"" of Hanoi's Bach Mai Hospital. The most valuable sections, however, are those in which Kamm sticks to his stated aim; the most informative are the ones on the cultural and social differences between northern and southern Vietnamese and on the post-1975 political excesses of the victorious Vietnamese communists. Kamm's reporting of events in present-day Vietnam affirms what other observers have said: Russians are despised, Americans welcomed. Life is harsh for tens of millions of Vietnamese mired in abject poverty, especially rural areas. Prostitution is a serious, growing national problem. Saigon is a booming commercial center; Hanoi is only slowly emerging from its Stalinist past. And while the Vietnamese government has liberalized its economy, it remains harshly totalitarian. Kamm has few good words for the country's hard-line leaders, ""narrow-minded, stiff-necked old Communists"" who allow ""no challenge to their absolute power."" Kamm plainly shows that Vietnam is a country, not a war.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1996
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Arcade