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The Man from Saigon - A Woman's View of the Vietnam War

  • Oct 3, 2010

I have just finished reading Marti Lembach’s 'The Man from Saigon' set in the Vietnam War.


While I am fascinated with all countries, I tend to stay away from books set during this war, perhaps because I have seen so many films and television series about the conflict that I feel I already have a pretty clear picture of what it was like. I don’t feel the need to read about American soldiers trying to avoid the Viet Cong as they make their way through the jungle, or try to understand their fear as they struggle with fighting an impossible war – this has all been so well covered already.

But what attracted me to this particular novel is that the protaganist is a western woman, which is certainly unusual in films and books based on the Vietnam War.

Susan Gifford is one of the few female journalists based in Saigon in 1967,and perhaps what makes the story even more endearing, is that she is there to write’ Women’s Interest’ stories for a women’s magazine. She is totally unprepared for the realities of the environment she finds herself in. But our leading lady is resourceful and intelligent if not a little reckless, and before long she finds herself in situations which would challenge the best-trained soldier or most battle-hardened foreign correspondent.

While this novel still sees some trekking through the jungle and avoiding of explosions, it is the emotional context of the writing that I found the most compelling. Susan becomes involved in complex relationships with both her Vietnamese photographer Son and an American television correspondent Marc – relationships obviously complicated by the environment they find themselves in, where the usual rules of play are abandoned and nothing is quite as it seems.

There is no shortage of the realities of war in this novel and like any book about this conflict we are exposed to the blood and fear of the time, but Susan’s interpretations of what she sees give us a slightly different perspective from what you are likely to have seen or read before. There is real emotional depth here, and I especially enjoyed Leimbach’s exploring of love and connection under the most difficult of circumstances.

The world of the foreign correspondents rings true and while I am no expert, Leimbach’s research of all things military appears thorough.

In terms of location, while the book is ostensibly set in Saigon, we spend much of the time out of the city on Susan’s various field assignments – the Mekong Delta, Con Thien, Pleiku, Loc Ninh.

While The Man from Saigon may not give you much of a picture of these places in modern day Vietnam, it is one more valuable addition to our understanding of its past and well worth a read.

And if you’d like to explore the country a little further then take a visit to this page I have put together at Packabook dedicated to books set in Vietnam.

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February 06, 2011
Sounds like a fascinating read! You might want to check out Sam's review of the same book too: http://www.lunch.com/reviews/book/UserReview...Departure_and_Loss.html
More The Man from Saigon: A Novel reviews
review by . April 02, 2010
The Vietnam War meant different things to different people because they cane to the war in very different ways. Some entered it, kicking and screaming, via the nerve-wracking military draft of the sixties, and a few joined up in order to avoid the prison time they deserved. Others, for reasons of their own, volunteered to join the fight. But, even then, common foot soldiers saw the war through eyes very different from those of the career officers who led them. Nurses, doctors and journalists had …
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Ranked #1959
I am a lover of travel and a lover of great books - so my greatest joy is to combine the two. Packabook helps travelers find books set in the place they are traveling to. Novels and travelogues etc are … more
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Amazon Exclusive: Karl Marlantes Reviews The Man from Saigon

A graduate of Yale University and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University,Karl Marlantesserved as a Marine in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Navy Cross, the Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation Medals for valor, two Purple Hearts, and ten air medals. His debut novel,Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War, will be published in April 2010. Read his exclusive guest review ofThe Man from Saigon:

This novel is one of the great examples of artistic imagination. Marti Leimbach was just starting grammar school at the time in which she set The Man from Saigon. She wasn’t there--but if you read this book, you will be.

Writers are always told in writing classes to write about what you know. What Leimbach knows and writes about superbly is the human heart, its relationship with others, and its conflicts with duty, fear, and ambition. This is the primary focus of the novel. A young woman is assigned to cover the Vietnam War for her women’s magazine. "Women’s interests... orphans, hospitals, brave young GIs, gallant doctors...” Once there, however, she learns about the deadly fascination of war, and is constantly getting herself into scrapes that terrify her and make her fervently wish she’d stayed in some rear area where it was safe and where her editor expected her to stay. But something pulls her back and she’s at it again--and again terrified. All the while, she finds herself becoming deeply ...

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ISBN-10: 0385529864
ISBN-13: 978-0385529860
Author: Marti Leimbach
Publisher: Nan A. Talese

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"Departure and Loss"
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