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 yet another Vietnam War experience – and, then, there were those rare female journalists who experienced something else altogether different.
Marti Leimbach’s latest novel, The Man from Saigon, tells the story of one of those female reporters, Susan Gifford, a woman who came to Vietnam to write special interest stories for a women’s magazine but could not resist the dangerous pull of going into the field with her fellow reporters, a decision she would often regret after it was too late to do anything about it. Susan’s willingness to place herself in harm’s way would eventually lead to her capture (along with Son, her Vietnamese photographer) by three North Vietnamese soldiers who would march her deep into the jungle in search of the unit from which they had become separated prior to stumbling upon Susan and Son.
The Man from Saigon, though, is about more than the trauma associated with chaotic firefights and ambushes by enemy soldiers. It is about personal relationships and how those relationships are shaped and changed when the constant possibility of a brutal, and sudden, death hangs over one’s head for months at a time. The novel explores the willingness of those who place themselves in that kind of situation to live all aspects of their lives on the edge. Needless to say, romance seldom plays much of a role in the practical relationships that often develop inside a war zone.
Susan finds herself involved with two very different men: a physical relationship with a married network news broadcaster who has been in-country for some twenty-nine months and a friendly relationship with the Vietnamese photographer who shares her tiny apartment in Saigon between their trips into the field to cover the war. In a way, she loves both of them, and neither of them – but together they give her the emotional support she needs to survive her Vietnam experience.
Marti Leimbach offers an insightful look at the whole Vietnam War experience, but with a slightly different twist to it. As she puts it in the novel, “It feels to her (Susan) that the universal theme of this country is departure and loss. Everyone is always in the process of leaving. Everyone is dying or disappearing or going away or being sent home. You never got used to it.”
Those readers who have read, or plan to read, the moving new Vietnam War novel, Matterhorn, by Karl Marlantes will find that The Man from Saigon is a nice companion piece in the way it looks at the war from a completely different point-of-view, this time from the viewpoint of those paid to be there to tell the rest of us what was really happening there.
Rated at: 4.0
(Review Copy provided by publisher)