A DANGEROUS FRIEND by Ward Just

A DANGEROUS FRIEND

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The former journalist, following last year’s Echo House, returns to Vietnam, the subject of such earlier Just fiction as A Soldier of the Revolution (1970 ) and Stringer (1974). Just offers an ironic portrayal of American innocents undertaking “nation-building” in a land they don’t understand: Saigon and environs in1965, when US presence is comparatively new, and when nonmilitary “Llewellyn Group” operative Sydney Parade arrives buoyed by visions of fruitful solidarity with Vietnamese hearts and minds, unaware that he’s destined to become “a dangerous friend” to those who live “in country.” Prominent among the latter are French rubber-plantation owner Claude Armand and his American wife Dade, objects of interest to Sydney’s boss Dicky Rostok, an ego-driven bureaucrat who’s convinced the Armands somehow serve the Viet Cong in exchange for being left unmolested. The stage is thus set for multiple dramatic confrontations, though Just makes the novel predominantly a vehicle for static conversational variations on the theme of well-meaning US megalomania (“Reinvention is the opiate of Americans”). The result is a frustrating book: exquisitely written, charged with vivid images suggesting Vietnam’s mingled beauty and danger, yet idling along for much of its length (and occasionally slipping into reverse), soliciting our interest in its rather vapid protagonist (the narrator who introduces Parade to us disappears early on) by repeatedly underscoring his marital failure and ingenuous yearning to be a part of the life of his time. Just picks up the pace in the last 50 pages, when a diplomatic plot to rescue a captured American officer both succeeds and fails, perversely destroying much of what people like the Armands have painstakingly built; the meaning of all being encapsulated in another stunning image, that of the strong young American as a powerless “giant in the doll’s house.” In other words, America in Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, Graham Greene already wrote this novel, The Quiet American, 40 years ago. Just’s flawed, redundant variation on it is, on balance, disappointing.

Pub Date: May 3rd, 1999
ISBN: 0-395-85698-1
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1999




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