Kafka in Saigon

The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Grove Press, $26. UK edition forthcoming

The World Today Updated 14 December 2020 Published 31 July 2015 2 minute READ

Lord Michael Williams

This year marked the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam war, seen then and even now as one of the most important events of the post-1945 world. The fall of Saigon with dramatic roof-top helicopter evacuations from the United States embassy appeared to symbolize an America defeated and humiliated as another western power, France, had been 21 years earlier at the battle of Dien Bien Phu. Both withdrew ignominiously before the same foe, the National Liberation Front – known to its enemies as the Viet Cong – led by Ho Chi Minh and their military commander, Vo Nguyen Giap.

At the time I was living in Indonesia writing a PhD thesis on communism and radicalism in the region and recall vividly the shadow the fall of Saigon cast over South-East Asia. Following that US defeat, there was an exodus of Vietnamese, who became known as the ‘boat people’.

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