A VIETCONG MEMOIR by Truong Nhu with David Chanoff & Doan Van Toai Tang
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A VIETCONG MEMOIR

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Tang was raised in French colonial Saigon luxury: the second of six sons of a wealthy teacher (who owned a planatation and a printing works and taught for the fun of it), Tang was singled out to be a pharmacist, received the best local education in French language and culture, and went off to Paris for his university training. It may seem a long way from there to a clandestine life with the National Liberation Front (NLF) and later to a jungle-based stint as justice minister in the NLF's Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG); but Tang presents his story as a natural evolution for a Vietnamese nationalist. The transition from dutiful son to nationalist revolutionary is a little sketchy. Tang found he had no interest in pharmacy and began studying political science instead. In retaliation, his father and father-in-law wrecked his marriage; but Tang pressed on in Paris (where he had met Ho Chi Minh in 1946), helping to organize student demonstrations in support of Vietnamese independence. Neither then nor later was Tang a Communist. Back in Saigon, he rose to prominence as secretary general of South Vietnam's national sugar company and participated in various borderline protest groups while secretly helping to form the NLF. His high-placed friend Albert, we hear, helped first to undermine the policy of strategic hamlets and then played a key role in elevating Nguyen Kao Ky as someone who would be open to negotiation with Hanoi and the southern guerrillas. Albert was eventually killed and Tang himself was arrested--first, for his legal activities and later for his membership in the Front. The second time he was briefly tortured, then freed in an exchange of prisoners following the 1968 Tet offensive. That was when he joined the NLF jungle headquarters (COSVN), the elusive target pursued relentlessly but unsuccessfully by the US military. (Tang says that COSVN was never a single place but a leadership group that would occasionally meet at a plantation-base near the Vietnam-Cambodia border.) Tang insists that the NLF was composed primarily of heterodox nationalists, and that after the American invasion of Cambodia Hanoi began to assert more ideologically rigid control over it. The PRG's influence waxed and waned with the military situation: when a military situation deteriorated the PRG was emphasized as the basis for a political solution. At war's end Tang became justice minister in the new government and quickly discovered that the Communist (Worker's) Party cadres were issuing the orders. He left the government in 1976, disillusioned by the establishment of camps for political prisoners (some 300,000 of them, he says). In 1978 Tang escaped on a refugee boat and made his way to Paris. There's undoubtedly some second-guessing and trail-covering going on here, but this look at the inner workings of the NLF and the inner thoughts of a self-styled nationalist is a unique glimpse at a revolution gone awry.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1985
ISBN: 0394743091
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich