Ein wunderbares Buch, ein echter Klassiker, verbindet spannende Unterhaltung, eine historische Zeitreise und Landeskunde über Vietnam so gekonnt miteinander, dass man das Buch kaum aus der Hand legen mag. Beginnend mit der Kollonialherrschaft Frankreichs bis zum Abzug der US-Amerikaner entspinnt sich eine spannende Handlung, natürlich auch eine romantische Liebesgeschichte, alles sehr clever erzählt, es läuft gewissermaßen ein Film vor dem geistigen Auge ab. Das Englisch dieses Buches ist "gekonnt" bzw. schreibt der Autor sehr eloquent, was mitunter ein etwas anspruchsvolleres Vokabular bedingt. Aber die paar Lücken im Text kann man einfach überlesen und dennoch das Buch genießen. Nicht nur für Asien-Fans geeignet!
First of all, I have to admit that I knew little to nothing about Vietnamese history before I started reading this book. I'd heard of the infamous Viet Cong and knew bits and pieces about the Vietnam war, but that's about it. Vietnam was never a country I found particularly interesting before. But since I'm always interested in books about South East Asia and recent world history, I decided to give this book a try anyway. And I'm so glad I did! "Saigon" is a truly epic masterpiece the like of which you only very rarely encounter. Though I can't judge whether this is "the War and Peace of our age" since I've never read "War and Peace".
"Saigon" moved me deeply. I was at turns shocked, utterly horrified, incredibly furious, saddened to no end, but also completely and absolutely fascinated and intrigued. More than once I had tears in my eyes and I often had to stop reading for a moment or two to get my feelings under control. Anthony Grey managed to portray his protagonists' feelings in a way that made me feel their sorrows as deeply as their joys.
The author didn't gloss over anything here. For the most part of the novel Vietnam was at war. Hence there was murder, rape, torture, lots and lots of violence and incredible suffering. What was happening was always obvious, at times also very explicit, and yet Anthony Grey never crossed the line from violence to gore, it was never excessive.
The plot was a perfect mix of historic events and personal destinies, which got me hooked immediately. I could hardly stop reading and I was utterly fascinated till the very last sentence and was sad to see the story end. I found it incredibly intriguing to watch the impact of the historic events on the protagonists' lives. The protagonists and their destinies are fiction. At the end of the book, Anthony Grey talks about his years of research for this book and his conversations with various experts on Vietnamese history. Now, I can't judge how successfull the research was, but I always felt like the author knew what he was writing about.
Grey's style of writing is definitely sophisticated but it never felt jarring.
I don't think you need any previous knowledge to enjoy this book. Before every new part of the book the author gives a brief summary of what happened between the end and the beginning of the new part. That was very helpful and there was no need for lengthy interruptions of the plot to explain the historic facts. Well done!
Especially in the first part of the book, when Vietnam was still the French colony Annam, there were a lot of French phrases and sentences that weren't translated. Thanks to my somewhat pathetical French I understood most of them, but I still found it a little jarring. Luckily, as the plot moved on, less and less of these French phrases showed up. A little help with pronouncing the Vietnamese names and words would have been nice as well. I don't speak a single word of Vietnamese, so I always had to guess the pronounciation, which I hate doing. Other than that, I would've liked a little epilogue on the situation in Vietnam today. That might not have been necessary when the book was first published in 1982, since that was only a few years after the plot ended, but now it's been over 35 years and I'm sure a lot has happened since.
To sum it up, "Saigon" is a truly epic work that doesn't require any previous knowledge about Vietnam. I haven't read many books that managed to touch me and intrigue me so completely. A book for everybody that's interested in contemporary history. You don't need to be a huge fan of Vietnam to enjoy this book! This was definitely one of the best books I've read this year. Consequently, I just have to give this novel a full five stars. A real must read!