Thursday, July 29, 2010

Out in the Jungle

'The Man from Saigon'
by Mart Leimbach


Format: ARC
Published: Feb. 2010
Pages: 352


Synopsis: Leimbach sets her vivid and powerful new novel in 1967 Vietnam to tell the story of Susan Gifford, a women's magazine writer who arrives in-country to write human interest stories about the war. Instead, she ends up covering combat and finds an intense friendship with Son, a Vietnamese photographer, and an equally intense love affair with Marc, a married American journalist. During an ambush, Susan and Son are captured by the Vietcong and are marched into the jungle. When they are reported missing, Marc drops a potentially big story to find them. Meanwhile, Susan begins to suspect that Son may not be who he seems. Leimbach masterfully conjures the hothouse atmosphere of foreign correspondents in Saigon in the late 1960s, and in Susan she has created a heroine who is a worthy counterpart to the real life reporters who covered the war. Whether describing a convoy taking fire, a farcical press briefing, a quiet moment between Susan and Marc, or the ironic aftermath of Susan's ordeal, Leimbach expertly captures the contradictions of the war, making this a solid addition to the literature of an endlessly reconsidered conflict. 

My Take: First things first, I don't read a lot of books set during the Vietnam War. Something about this time period gives me the willies. Aside from the fact that war is war and it's never good, I don't know if it's because usually the books are set in the jungle and everyone is all hot and sweaty and covered in bugs or if its because they might delve into horrid flashbacks or something, for some reason war stories set in Vietnam freak me out like no other so I read this book at a snails pace. It probably took me a month all told to get through this one. I kept putting it down and picking up something else. I couldn't stay with the story, I just didn't have the will power. I guess this shows how wrong the army was to try to recruit me when I graduated from high school!

At any rate, the story was interesting and different from other Vietnam books I've read, however few and far between those might be. Susan is a young woman who is a journalist sent from her woman's magazine to cover the war. I found this mildly far fetched but I wasn't alive then so what do I know. However, today Glamour and Marie Claire don't have someone full time reporting from Afghanistan or Iraq on 'women's interests' in wartime they just do some op-ed's from time to time so maybe I'm not completely off base here. At any rate that's why Susan is there so just go with it. 

Susan was pretty easy for me to relate to which I liked. She didn't know what to expect and when she got to Saigon she was kind of overwhelmed at first which is a very honest portrayal I think. Growing up in America couldn't prepare you for that. She was thrown into all kinds of situations before being captured by the Viet Cong (I didn't just give anything away there that they don't tell you on the back of the book). She was doing pretty well with her writing and had even started a love affair with another man before all this went down in the jungle. Unfortunately for her the unthinkable happens and she is captured.

You learn how strong Susan is and what the human body is able to endure. There is also some mystery and intrigue, while back in Saigon Susan's boyfriend is trying to figure out how to rescue her. Overall, while the story was told from a different standpoint than most Vietnam War novels, I do think that it was slow for me, and I found my mind wandering while reading it. It didn't grab me like I thought it would.

*If you would like to have my ARC, I will happily send it to you. Just put your email in the comments letting me know and I will draw one name on Sunday.*

(I received this from LibraryThing Early Reviewers)

6 comments:

  1. I've avoided reading books about war too for the obvious reasons, but lately I've been trying to broaden my horizon and try new things. I've actually been trying to hunt down a copy of Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes because it came highly recommended.

    It does have an interesting premise and a different way of approaching the Vietnam War, but I hate to hear that it was a slow and draggy read. I'm debating whether or not I want to read this book or not and after looking at reviews on amazon and librarything it seems like there is a general consensus that the book should be about a hundred pages shorter. There's a small part of me that would like to read it though so I guess I'll throw my name into the hat.

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  2. I'd like to give this one a try. I studied history in college and have read quite a bit about the Vietnam War. I don't think I've read any fiction set during that time period so this would be a good one to try. My email: pizzo_kathleen@yahoo.com

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  3. I do remember a lot of the news from Vietnam and I sure don't remember anyone from women's magazines reporting it, but maybe I'm wrong. I'm not sure this is for me either.

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  4. Up until a week ago, I'd never read anything having to do with the Vietnam War! Lynne Griffin's Sea Escape was my first read from the time period and I definitely enjoyed it.

    I'm sorry this one wasn't more engaging for you... I would be willing to give it a go, though! Many aspects of the plot appeal to me, especially the fact that Susan is a journalist. If you wouldn't mind throwing my name into the hat, too, that would be great! :)

    writing.meg [at] gmail.com

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  5. While all war is horrible, there definitely is something about books about Vietnam that make them harder to read than WWII books or books about other wars. I have yet to put my finger on the reason, but from the Vietnam books I've read so far, they're more gritty and raw than anything else I've read.

    I've seen mixed reviews for this book, so I'm not sure I'll read it. I hope it's okay for me to link to your review on War Through the Generations.

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  6. Anna - yes of course you can link to it! :)

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