SEEING VIETNAM by Susan Brownmiller


Encounters of the Road and Heart
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 Equal amounts of cram-course pedagogy and '60s reminiscences pepper this Vietnam travelogue by feminist journalist and novelist Brownmiller (Waverly Place, 1989, etc.). In 1992, just after the removal of US travel restrictions to Vietnam, Brownmiller went there on assignment for Travel & Leisure as a simple first-time tourist; she also went to encounter and make her peace with a country she knew only from its wartime images on television, which she helped to define while working for ABC news. From Hanoi to Saigon--with stops in Danang, Hue, and Quang Tri- -Vietnam's war scars, Soviet-style economic barrenness, and vibrant Indo-Chinese heritage commingle. Her discovery of traditional culture is the most successful aspect of the journey, whether describing Vietnamese cuisine, the water puppets of Saigon, or the antique pottery of Hoi An. Her trips to the obligatory battlefields and war memorials provoke in her culture shock and ultimately incomprehension. Comparing an armaments museum in Hanoi's Lenin Park to a recent antiwar exhibition at New York City's Museum of Modern Art, she pronounces the former more powerful art but is surprised by her guide's bitterness at the relics of a costly war machine in a country excluded from its neighbors' modernized prosperity. International businesspeople in restored French hotels, thriving hawkers of shoddy goods, and ecotourists visiting a bird sanctuary near the Cambodian border are all hopeful signs of emergence from the postwar limbo. Brownmiller's attempts to understand the Vietnamese experience of the war and current sentiments, however, are muddled by her own self-absorbed guilty flashbacks. In one egregious instance, as she leaves the Khe Sanh battlefield, she starts singing the sardonic ``Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag'' of Woodstock in front of her guides, who in turn strike up with a patriotic Vietnamese anthem. Although passable as postcard travel writing, Seeing Vietnam is more hopeful traveling than arrival at an understanding of a country's painful history and problematic future. ($25,000 ad/promo; author tour)

Pub Date: May 18th, 1994
ISBN: 0-06-019049-3
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1994