ROMANCING VIETNAM

INSIDE THE BOAT COUNTRY

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. (Eight pages of humdrum photos, including two of a dour-looking Wintle standing cheek by jowl with indigneous notables.)

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 1991

ISBN: 0-679-40621-2

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1991

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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