Swain covers the period when the US began to pull out of Vietnam as the American War drew down and he is the only British journalist working in Phnom Penh as the city falls to the Khmer Rouge in 1975. Interpreter Dith Pran saved the lives of New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg and Swain, who hole up in the French Embassy; be sure to read The Gate as well if you’re interested in this period. These same events were covered in the Oscar-winning film, The Killing Fields.
Swain writes of the beauty of the Indochinese landscape and people, falling in love, and the horrors of war; this is really a coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of the wars in Indochina. We would agree with critics who say the 1996-published book is perhaps infused with a touch too much of the nostalgia and romanticism with which correspondents in Indochina often seem to be afflicted; it hasn’t aged too well in that regard. But Swain does write evocatively of a long-gone period, and he also teases out a complexity to the war years that lets this book stand well above others of the genre. (Do also read The Sympathizer for a stunning Vietnamese viewpoint from this era.)
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