SAIGON DREAMING: Recollections of Indochina Days by Tela Zasloff

SAIGON DREAMING: Recollections of Indochina Days

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In this thoughtful memoir, Zasloff (English/Robert Morris College in Pittsburgh) recalls her experiences in Saigon in 1964 and Laos in 1967, and writes of her return to Laos in 1988. Newly married at the age of 25, Zasloff accompanied her husband to Saigon, where they both worked for the RAND Corporation, trying to determine how the Communist insurgents gained acceptance among the population. The author tells us nothing of the results of that study; rather, in a series of charming vignettes, she conveys the atmosphere of a cosmopolitan Vietnamese city that has waved goodbye to the French but has not yet experienced the influx of American servicemen. We get a taste of the tropical languor, the apathy, the inefficiency, and the shortsighted maneuvering of Ngo Dinh Diem's South Vietnamese administration. More importantly, we see how intelligent people of different cultures interact, sometimes clumsily, sometimes with good effect, and generally with good will. Old stereotypes take on new complexity. Coal-oriented, idealistic, and perhaps wildly optimistic Americans inspire somnolent Vietnamese. Embittered French colonists grow more caustic. Yet Zasloff is aware that it was not all sweetness and light, for on occasion she was subject to black moods that baffled her. She exposes them, probes them, and does not apologize. She wishes simply to understand. Her 1988 visit to Laos is unexplained, though presumably it is of a semiofficial nature. The capital, Vientiane, seems sadder and more shoddy. Is the grim visage of the city simply the result of Communist misrule, or perhaps the loss of youth on the part of the viewer? Whatever, much of the zest is gone. A graceful, literate remembrance of a society that no longer exists.

Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 1990
Publisher: St. Martin's