The Man from Saigon

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9780007350636: The Man from Saigon

It's 1967, and Susan Gifford is one of the first female correspondents on assignment in Saigon. She is dedicated to her job and passionately in love with an American TV reporter. Son is a Vietnamese photographer anxious to get his work into the American press. Together they cover every aspect of the war, from combat missions to the workings of field hospitals. Then one November morning, narrowly escaping death during an ambush, Susan and Son find themselves the prisoners of three Vietcong soldiers who have been separated from their unit.Now, under constant threat from American air strikes and helpless in the hands of the enemy, they face the daily hardships of the jungle together. As time passes, the bond between Susan and Son deepens, and it becomes increasingly difficult for Son to harbor the secret that could have profound consequences for them both.

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Review:

Amazon Exclusive: Karl Marlantes Reviews The Man from Saigon

A graduate of Yale University and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, Karl Marlantes served 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 of The 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 involved with a war-sick, married reporter who’s been there 23 months but can’t seem to go home, and her photographer, a Vietnamese man who speaks flawless English and never talks about his background or his frequent disappearances.

The story is set in Vietnam in 1967. This reviewer, a Vietnam veteran, was initially skeptical that Leimbach could pull it off. Through obviously careful and considerable research, however, going through memoirs and articles of the time that told the stories of people like Army nurses, women correspondents, and soldiers on both sides, she has constructed a realistic and fascinating setting. This takes not only skill, but courage. Any time a writer steps outside of her skin, for example, into the skin of a jaded, male war correspondent, or into a time and place she has never inhabited, she exposes herself to mistakes and criticism. If the writer doesn’t do this, then her art stands limited to her experience. Even Ernest Hemingway, who definitely knew how to fish, was neither old nor Cuban when he wrote The Old Man and the Sea. Then there was Emily Dickinson.

Just like her protagonist, who exposes herself to danger to get the story, Leimbach does this to tell the story. You won’t want to put it down for anything except reluctant pauses for necessities. --Karl Marlantes

Marti Leimbach on The Man from Saigon

I was a baby when the war in Vietnam began. The images on our black and white television were as close to the conflict as I came and my novel reflects nothing of my personal experience. It may therefore seem risky, even improper, to have written a novel that takes place in 1967 just before Tet. I am the wrong gender and generation. I have never lived in a war zone or even held a gun. For me as a writer, however, the war in Vietnam proved impossible to resist.

Of course, I am not the only writer who has been drawn to this war. An entire generation of journalists competed to gain access. Many were women: Kate Webb, Frances Fitzgerald, Gloria Emerson, to name a few. Some were captured, injured. Dickie Chappelle was killed. Nothing that happened--not the bombings or the landmines or constant fire--stopped them. While reading their memoirs I was constantly reminded of their bravery and determination. Martha Gellhorn wrote urgent letters begging for a chance to report there, stating, "All I really wanted was to get to Vietnam."

But war isn’t romantic. It is about killing and about death. A soldier sends a letter home, describing the smell of that morning’s bacon, rubbing red dirt onto the bottom of the page to show his parents the color of the earth in this different world. Later, he is killed. Not weeks later, but hours. I write about what it might have been like to live with such constant uncertainty, about soldiers on both sides, about journalists and jungles, about things that happened or might have happened. I owe the novel to the tireless recording of others much bolder than myself, and wrote from a safe distance, far from the events of that time. --Marti Leimbach

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 Daniel Isn't Talking. Born in Washington, D.C., she currently lives in England and teaches in Oxford University's creative writing program. Susan Ericksen is an actress who performs on stage and television. An Audie Award and AudioFile Earphones Award winner, Susan has recorded many audiobooks, including Naked in Death by J. D. Robb and Savannah Blue by Mary Kay Andrews.

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