Thanks to Judy and Doubleday for the ARC of The Man from Saigon: A Novel by Marti Leimbach!
The lieutenants leading platoons were targets. They allowed her to tag along with her steno pad. They allowed her to ask questions, to share C rations and cigarettes, to dig a hole at night and sleep among the men, but not to walk point with them up front. They did not want her killed. It wasn't that a lieutenant had any reason to favor her. She was of no use to them -- if she died, if she didn't -- but she would not know to be wary of dead leaves, which can sometimes be old camouflage hiding an explosive. Or than an unusual object on the ground -- a VC scarf or helmet -- would blow her arm off if she touched it. They protected her by keeping her among them, and she cherished that protection. The commanding officers would not say this to her face, but a dead woman was not good for morale. - The Man from Saigon: A Novel by Marti Leimbach
It's 1967 and Susan Gifford is one of the first women correspondents in Saigon, dedicated to her job and passionately in love with an American TV reporter. Son is a Vietnamese photographer anxious to get his work to get his work into the American press. Together they cover every aspect of the war from combat missions to the working of field hospitals. Then one November morning, after narrowly escaping death during an ambush, they find themselves the prisoners of three Vietcong soldiers who have been separated from their unit. Helpless in the hands of the enemy, they face the jungle, living always with the threat of being killed. But Son turns out to have a secret history that one day will separate Susan from her American lover. As they are held under terrifyingly harsh conditions, it becomes clear just how profound their relationship is, and how important it has become to both of them.
The Man in Saigon is different from and more than what I'd expected.
I'd worked as a journalist and with foreign correspondents in the Philippines during a time of upheaval and I'd met friends who had lived in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, The Man from Saigon vividly painted a picture of what Vietnam must have been like at that time. What fascinated me most about the book was her detailed and clear description of what life must have been like for the locals, the expats, the soldiers (on both sides) living in Saigon and its environs during the Vietnam War: the bars and parties with the local elite and expats, the scenes and smells of Vietnam's streets and jungles, and the complex social structure.
Just as Marti Leimbach presented Vietnam and the war in its complexity, she also introduces us to complex and unusual characters. Susan, her concerns, desires and thought processes are of an intelligent, brave, and nonpartisan woman who has taken on the challenge of reporting stories of human interest during an unpopular and losing war. Susan finds her way in among the expats, doctors, US military and locals, with the help of two men that she meets. There is Susan's American lover, a TV journalist who has been in Vietnam for a long time, has taken significant risks and attempts to report the war fairly but has suffered for it. There is Son, a Vietnamese national and photographer who helps Susan understand the country around her, but has secrets of his own. Here's a glimpse of the characters:
M was what Son called "not so cautious," but which he meant the guy had a death wish. Susan and his was a misguided, amorphous, sprawling kind of relationship with no obvious direction or end in sight. In other words, perfect for the time being. They met between stories, holing up in his hotel or anywhere else they could find, disappearing for a day and then emerging again, rushing out to get another story. It was exhausting and addictive. And among many other things, it had the effect on Susan of knocking away whatever remnants of common sense and perspective were left. She went out on more missions. She took more risks.
The characters of Susan, her American lover, and Son take the story forward, take us through unexpected twists, and an unexpected conclusion. I highly recommend The Man from Saigon: A Novel by Marti Leimbach.
ISBN-10: 0385529864 - Hardcover $25.95
Publisher: Nan A. Talese (February 23, 2010), 352 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
About the Author:
Marti Leimbach is the author of several novels, including the international bestseller Dying Young, which was made into a major motion picture starring Julia Roberts, and most recently Daniel Isn't Talking. Born in Washington, D.C., she attended the creative writing program at the University of California, Irvine, and Harvard University. She currently lives in England and teaches at Oxford University's creative writing program.
Thanks so much, Judy and Doubleday for this review opportunity!