The setting is Indochina, 1949, when a French Commanding General parachutes a group of soldiers in to Lao Bang, an outpost in the jungle, to hold it against the Vietminh insurgents. A group of prostitutes are also sent to Lao Bang to entertain the soldiers and maintain their morale, under the leadership of the beautiful and intelligent Marie. Marie works for Mr. Bao, a Vietnamese who is attempting to ingratiate himself with both the French and the Vietminh, by selling girls and medicinal supplies. There follows perhaps one of the most unromantic love affairs in fiction between Marie and Bertrand, an unorthodox Commando. Marie has consented to sleep with Bertrand without payment, and he finds that he is truly concerned about her safety as their situation becomes more and more dangerous. The Viet, whose strength has been greatly underestimated, wipe out the outpost-and at the end only Mr. Bao and the French General survive to continue their careers.... This situation, which could be full of passion and terror, is seen by the reader as if through the wrong end of a telescope. Everything appears in clear, sometimes unessential detail, and the characters seem to have no more values at stake than do the faraway people who will describe this as a ""border incident"".