Kirkus Reviews QR Code


Hanoi and Saigon

by Neil Sheehan

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-679-41391-X
Publisher: Random House

 A view of Vietnam since America's involvement, by the author of perhaps the best book on the war, A Bright Shining Lie (1988). Here, Sheehan covers his visit to Vietnam in 1989 with his wife, Susan--who, with him, coauthored some of this material for a series of New Yorker articles and whom Sheehan credits here for her insight and her editing skills. Sheehan sees a Vietnam suffering not from the American war but from a prolonging of the agony by the rigid regime of Le Duan, with its prosecution of new wars and its Stalinist economics. In 1986, as General Giap relates in a longish and candid interview, came doi moi, or ``the new way.'' Out went the collective farms and heavy industrial projects; in came a free market. Within a year, Vietnam was exporting rice, and the currency had stabilized. Still, it's a desperately poor country, the North in particular, as Sheehan's tour of hospitals demonstrates: They are underequipped and cannot afford to stock antibiotics or basic vaccines. In Saigon, Sheehan is overcome with memories and seeks out his and Susan's old haunts, as well as those of John Vann, subject of much of A Bright Shining Lie. Like the North, the South is a society run by party faithful--and the privileges of rank have hearkened to them, leaving out a great many of the ``mutilated.'' Even so, the armies of homeless have been eliminated, and no one is starving. In Saigon, Western influence is strongest, ready for the moment when the American embargo drops and Vietnam becomes the economic powerhouse everyone is anticipating. Already the BMWs proliferate. Short but closely observed; essential for your Vietnam shelf.