ROMANCING VIETNAM: Inside the Boat Country by Justin Wintle

ROMANCING VIETNAM: Inside the Boat Country

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As this tedious first-person account of an extended jaunt through the Socialist Republic of Vietnam attests, not every Englishman is a gifted travel writer. Journalist Wintle (The Financial Times, etc.) spent the last three months of 1989 on a self-imposed assignment to capture ""the real Vietnam,"" i.e., the Communist-ruled nation whose image, he was convinced, had been indelibly blurred by Hollywood's war films. Whatever the merits of his approach, Wintle did not come back with any particularly vivid or valid perspectives. Despite having traversed the dirt-poor SRV from north to south during the dawn of doi moi (an Asian analogue of perestroika), he was able to reach few conclusions. Nor did his closely chaperoned contacts with the likes of Le Duc Tho, General Vo Nguyen Giap, and Vu Ky (Ho Chi Minh's erstwhile secretary) yield him insights, much less a coherent, communicable perception of either where the country is heading or what it's about. The author's chronological narrative focuses on the quotidian frustrations experienced by a Westerner attempting to deal with a closed society's petty bureaucrats. For most readers, a little of this supercilious bosh will go a very long way. Equally unappealing is Wintle's penchant for including a surfeit of trivial detail on his personal reactions and ailments. Among other irksome cases in point, the author reports: ""After lunch I visit the new international shop in Trang Tien Street, to buy a bottle of authentic scotch for tomorrow's office thingy,"" meaning his goodbye party at the Information Ministry in Hanoi. A bad trip to the extent that the tour guide's self-absorption leaves him too little space and time to provide worthwhile commentary on a presumably intriguing land.

Pub Date: Nov. 4th, 1991
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Pantheon