Monday, March 29, 2010

The Man From Saigon, by Marti Leimbach

First a thank you to Librarything's Early Reviewers Program for sending me this book. If you don't know about Librarything, get on over there. It is definitely the best book site on the web today.

The Man From Saigon is a work of historical fiction, set in 1967 during the Vietnam War just prior to the Tet Offensive.  Susan Gifford is a reporter who writes for a woman's magazine and is sent to Saigon to write about things of interest to women. She realizes, however, that the real action is not in Saigon, but out in the field, and off she goes. On her first foray in country, she meets Marc, another reporter, with whom she eventually falls in love. She also takes with her on her periodic jaunts into the jungle a Vietnamese reporter named Son.  It is on one trip to do a story on a refugee camp in the Delta that the soldiers with whom she is traveling are ambushed. She and Son are soon separated from the protection of the Army, but are quickly taken prisoner by three North Vietnamese soldiers looking for their own unit. Of course, this brief summary doesn't even begin to cover this story, but I don't want to give away the show for others who may wish to read the book. 

The author is able to zoom in on some of the inherent ambiguities and contradictions of war, and of those caught up in it, at least the slice of it which she reveals here.  For example, the "truth" that was coming out of Vietnam from reporters was often suppressed, filtered or changed, as we know now, and as the author shows so well, and depended heavily on what those in charge of the war wanted everyone to know back home. Marc and his cameraman Locke ran into this censorship and official US doublespeak issue several times throughout the story.  The author also touches on the treatment of the native Vietnamese who were evacuated by the Army from their homes, whom the army called "victims of the Vietcong." (181)  People in the camps had seen their houses torched, their food supplies ruined, normal life disrupted, all by the Army when there wasn't even a battle going on. Then there's the moral ambiguity of it all, exemplified especially in the case of the main character, Susan, who comes to understand what's really happening while she's out there in the jungle and has time to reflect on her time and experiences in Vietnam. 

The Man From Saigon  is overall, a good reading experience. The characters, for the most part, were well drawn, and the sense of place was so realistically portrayed that you could almost feel the intense heat from the time to time. However, I thought the author overdid it in terms of Susan's day-to-day slog through the jungle, the progress of her foot injuries, and the abundance of detail about the rats and insects that were cooked and eaten while she was a prisoner. Had the story been a little bit tighter, it would have been excellent. But I would most definitely recommend it to anyone interested in reading about Vietnam, or about women's roles in Vietnam during the war. Ms. Leimbach has done a great deal of research here, and it's paid off.


  1. This sounds like a great read. I love historical fiction so am really interested. I'll put this one on my tbr pile. Thanks for joining the club.

  2. It's a good read, to be sure! And I enjoyed the emphasis of women's roles during the war as well.

    And, you're welcome!


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