Memoir of Vietnam by the author of A Very Large Consulate (1988) and other novels, including one about the French war against the Vietnamese (To a Silent Valley, 1961). Well over half of Simpson's book concerns his tenure as press officer for the US Foreign Service in Saigon, 1952-55. Simpson got along well with the French, and the set-pieces here are his accounts of the battle of Dien Bien Phu and the vital engagement at Nasan that prefigured that great turning point. Particularly affecting are the desperate hopes of the French commanders and their Algerian/Moroccan/Legionnaire troops as the battle goes badly and they beg, in vain, for American air support. There are shades of Graham Greene's The Quiet American in Simpson's depictions of the dying French empire and the brash but naive American opportunism; and the portraits of the eternally patient General Giap and of the corrupt Diem regime are painstakingly informed, not only from Simpson's personal observations but also from declassified accounts. The chronicle ends with Simpson's 1991 return, as a correspondent, to Hanoi and Saigon, where he visits the set of the French-made film Dien Bien Phu, in which he is a character. He meets with General Giap, who muses on the inevitability of his peasant army's victory. But mostly what Giap and others want, Simpson explains, is for the American trade embargo to be lifted and for Vietnam's economy to achieve its considerable potential. The embargo, says Simpson, has lost every rationale and is now simply ``vindictive.'' Particularly engaging as a chronicle of French defeat and, despite all best advice, the taking up of the doomed struggle by the US.