Return to Vietnam

Return to Vietnam

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The photographer and filmmaker Raymond Depardon and the writer Jean-Claude Guillebaud belong to a generation who grew up with the word 'Vietnam' on their lips. As journalists, both had covered the Vietnam War until 1972. after twenty long years - of Stalinism, boat people, Hollywood heroics and French nostalgia - they decided it was time to go back. Vietnam, they believed, was not a story which "you could simply stop watching and switch off." They traveled from South to North, from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to Hanoi, exploring memories of the war and the contradictions of peace, looking and listening with a sensitivity and sense of solidarity all too rare in travel writing. The result is an extraordinary account of a country transformed and of a people, victors and victims together, betrayed on all sides, coming back to life.

In Hanoi they find none of the grim austerity imagined by foreigners, but rather a city of beauty now 'opening' to capitalism partly thanks to the experiences and money orders of workers sent in their thousands to Poland of the GDR. At Khe Sanh, on the bloodiest battlefield of the war, children dig for shrapnel to sell for a cent a kilo; lovers stroll on the beach at De Nang, where the first US troops landed. Loudspeakers in the street still broadcast a litany of production figures, but they are drowned out by Paul Anka and the Everly Brothers. Saigon, the author discover, has easily triumphed over Stalin’s murderous economic planning. But it may face a tougher adversary in capitalism, whose grim 'post-communist' program can be found in a single neon sign: "Kenwood-HiFi-Stereo-Night-Club-Karaoke-VIP-Room-Discotheque-Saigon-Pub-Health-Centre-Coffee-Shop."

As rich in political perceptions as it is in memorable images, Return to Vietnam shatters the myths about a country which the West fought over, flattened and forgot.