On assignment from 60 Minutes, CBS correspondent Safer returned last year to Vietnam, where he had spent a significant part of his career. In addition to a TV program, he returned with a journal, ""unbound by the constraints of . . .objectivity,"" which offers an allusive amalgam of evocative wartime reminiscences and wry commentary on the currently impoverished state of the Communist-led nation. Ranging widely throughout the now united country (under the watchful eye of a young, button-bright minder he calls Miss Mai), the Canadian author still perceives distinctive differences between the dour North and easygoing South, whose inhabitants face adversity with some style. Fully aware he and fellow newsmen were key players in the bitter, protracted conflict, Safer recalls his role in a broadcast that put shocking pictures of US troops torching a Vietnamese village on home-front TV sets. This time around, he quietly interviews General Vo Nguyen Giap (an aging, unreconstructed war-lover), passes a boozy evening with a former Time reporter who turned out to be a Vietcong agent, attends an edgy gathering of enemy veterans in the home of a boorish party official near Saigon, and otherwise puts himself in touch with bygone battles. Along his random way, Safer relearns some valuable lessons about Asian nationalism. While few of the Vietnamese with whom he talked believe that either side won, for example, most conclude the game was worth the candle because it rid the country of foreigners. The author also documents the grassroots impact of Hanoi's tentative efforts to normalize relations with Washington in hopes of securing aid to revive an economy devastated as much by collectivism's shortcomings as the aftereffects of war. In the meantime, he relates, there's a new generation of young Vietnamese vaguely discontented with the hard peace that prevails, albeit with no memory of military recruitment, sudden death in jungle combat, the thunder of B-52 raids, pacification campaigns, and allied aspects of America's failed involvement in a far-off land. An absorbing, if often detached, log from an acute observer probing for realities amidst the ambiguities of a turbulent past and an uncertain present.