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Shadows and Wind: A View of Modern Vietnam
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2001
Format: Paperback
I think anyone who has spent any time in Vietnam will recognise so much in this book. I went back to what I used to think of as my homeland but now I no longer feel at home there and this book made me understand why. This beautiful cultured country is laboring under a system that still tries to crush people rather than help them. This book sometimes paints a gloomy picture of what the communist party has done but it also captures the spirit of the Vietnamese in the chapters on food, arts and religion.
Those reviewers who have attacked this book seem to be people who have never been to Vietnam and are no position to know whether the book is accurate or not. Their aggressive attacks are motivated more by ignorance and spite than any knowledge of the country. One strangely complains that Mr. Templer says he knows everything because he is lived in the country three years but this is from a person who has clearly never been there and knows nothing about the country. This books is detailed and a little dense but no other book available today comes close to giving a sense of life in Vietnam and an understanding of the culture and people and government. Read this if you really want to know about the country.
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39 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
Since I am a Vietnamese, I am speaking from a Vietnamese perspective. Unless you can read Vietnamese, this is the best book that you can find written about Vietnam in recent years. I find that Mr. Templer's knowledge about Vietnamese literature, politics, culture is extraordinary. He quotes a lot of Vietnamese poems and literature that are unknown to a regular Vietnamese unless he/she is highly educated. His stories reflect the truth of what is happening in Vietnam right now unlike the info that are published by the Vietnamese government. When I read those books, I feel like they are talking about life in another planet. So if you want accurate info on current Vietnamese life, then you should read Robert Templer's book.
An excellent book from any point of view. I highly recommend it.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2001
Format: Paperback
Shadows and Wind is among the best books about my homeland that I've ever read. It really brings to life the country and the issues it faces and it is written with a depth of knowledge that I am surprised a non-Vietnamese could learn. This is one of the most important books about the country written in recent years and the first that views it through the eyes of Vietnamese rather than through the view of Americans and people who fought in the war. Parts of this book made me cry when I understood how much people in Vietnam still have to endure. This is a book for the post-War Vietnam, nto for those who only see the country through the war or those who still view it through the ignorant lens of Hollywood and American war books.
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39 of 46 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Robert Templer, the author, is a young British journalist who was
raised in Asia. In 1994 he spent three years as a correspondent for
the Agence France-Presse and this book, published in 1998, is a well
researched account of a the creeping capitalism, corrupt government,
and historical struggles of the Vietnamese people.
More than half of
Vietnam's population today were born after the war and are more
interested in consumerism than communism. But in spite of their
smuggled videos and make-believe motor bikes (which are all chrome and
glitz and have tiny motors), they live in a culture where corruption
is a way of life, the judicial system is almost non-existent, and
writers are persecuted and forbidden to portray Vietnam without a rosy
myth.
The extent of the corruption is everywhere. If you are sick
you have to pay extra to get the most basic medical care, even if you
have government insurance. If you want your children to pass their
exams, you have to pay teachers for "private tuition". If
you want to move, change jobs or leave the country, you have to pay
someone. The police can arbitrarily rob street vendors or require
payoffs from anyone at whim. And, as foreign investors have found,
unlike other Asian countries, the pay-offs do not necessarily obtain
the results desired.
There's a history of famine in Vietnam and
memories of starvation. There are also food practices that Westerners
find abhorrent. Yes. The Vietnamese do eat dogs and cats and
restaurants get big bucks for serving meat that is on the endangered
species list. I know that I should try to not be judgmental, but the
ancient practice of beating a dog to death over several hours in order
to tenderize the meat particularly disturbs me.
The book is dense
with facts and slow reading. And some of the sections were difficult
to follow, especially when the author went into great detail about the
complexities of corruption in the Vietnamese Communist party where one
leader after another would fall into disfavor with the party, be
thrown into prison, his family denied any employment and his children
forbidden to attend school.
To raise money from tourists, especially
from Americans who return to Vietnam with a sense of guilt about the
war, several war museums have been erected. The fact that many of the
exhibits are not authentic does not stop people from visiting them.
There is even a museum that re-creates the infamous tunnels used by
the Viet Cong although they had to be made larger to accommodate the
larger size American tourists. There is even a make-believe mine
field with firecrackers that explode when a wire is tripped.
For the
Vietnamese who now live in other parts of the world, returning is
difficult. They are considered rich foreigners and intruders and it
is extremely rare for any of them to come back to settle
permanently.
It was a bit of a struggle for me to read this book. I
learned a lot but cannot say I enjoyed it. There was very little to
break the tension and the few shreds of humor were few and far
between. And yet, for anyone who is truly interested in a serious
comprehensive analysis of what Vietnam is today, this is a worthwhile
book and I would definitely recommend it.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 1999
Format: Paperback
I am preparing a trip to Vietnam and I have been reading several publications on Vietnam and the Vietnamese people. I have to say that this book is so far the most revealing and objective account of Vietnam, it's recent history, and the trials and joys of it's people that I have read. It's incredibly refreshing to read something that so objectively discusses the many influences Vietnamese culture has endured in the past 50 years. Hopefully many will find that this book finally allows them to see the Vietnamese and their history from a perspective outside the American invasion.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is not so much an explanation of the Vietnamese "people" as it is of Vietnamese government and bureaucracy. And on that score, the book is superb. Just don't expect it to give you a deep understanding of culture or history. It goes back in time only far enough to explain Vietnam's current situation (usually no more than 10 years back). And it only gets into cultural issues only to the extent that it effects political and economic decisions.
Templer is no diplomat beholden to his hosts for their hospitality. Neither is he a liberal academic in an ivory tower removed from his subject. As a Britisher, he is not affected by the Vietnam War in the way that most Americans are. In other words, he was neither on the right nor the left the American political debate. He therefore does not give credit or discredit where neither are due. The tone of the book is fairly critical, but those criticisms are always justified with specific facts of each case. So if you are looking for a book that gives a good structural, realpolitick understanding of present day Vietnam, I would highly recommend this one.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on October 22, 2000
Format: Paperback
For those expecting a soft-focus tourist travelogue vision of Vietnam, this may not be the book for you but if you want to read a really penetrating, insightful book about Vietnam and Vietnamese culture this is the best book to come along in a long time. It is illuminating, well written and covers so much about Vietnam from its food to religion to literature to politics to art and popular culture. For Vietnamese it is surprising that a non-Vietnamese learned so much about the country. Most books by foreigners about Vietnam are terrible. This is the exception in that the author really seems to have listened to people and reflects the real situation in Vietnam today, not just the tourist view or the government's propaganda.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on February 3, 2000
Format: Paperback
I'd recommend this book for anyone visiting Vietnam -- it gives you real insight into the country and covers so many aspects of the society there. It is packed full of stories about what is happening in Vietnam today and what has happened there since the war. There are so many books about the war and so few about the Vietnamese people. If you visit Vietnam this is the best way to familiarise yourself with the country, the people and the culture before you go. A great read, packed full of new information.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on August 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
What strikes me most when reading this book is this: Robert Templer has the ability to see things through a Vietnamese person's eyes but at the same time look at that same person's issues from an outside vantage point belonging to an impartial investigator.
The book has 16 substantive chapters, each covering an angle of this investigator's view. For example, the chapter called "Famine" concentrates on the famine caused by the Japanese which killed millions of Vietnamese. I know some older Vietnamese who still vividly remember seeing hungry people dropping dead everyday on the streets and who, because of that hellish experience, even now will never throw away leftover rice but will keep for the next meal.
If you want to know what "shadows and wind" means, go to the chapter "Cymbals ..". Hint: it is to do with a fairly peculiarly Vietnamese way of talking when you can't talk.
Other chapters deal with Vietnamese food (Feast), youth (I think called Young & Restless), religion (Faith), media, etc.
Templer expressed perhaps thousands of observations in his book. I found that most of them correspond with, extend, or challenge my own observations as a Vietnamese. I didn't agree with a few observations, but these may be differences of opinion rather than a lack of research or impartiality.
While a small problem, Templer should have been more careful in spelling a few names. He may not remain cool if I spelled his name as Temper, yet he mis-spelled the name of a well-known Vietnamese in Australia.
I would offer another constructive criticism: the book is quite dry, with lots of facts and observations but nothing - like entertainment, pictures, etc. - to lighten the reading load.
Overall, this book is well researched, and not weighed down with ideology or historical baggage.
Trung
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 12, 2000
Format: Paperback
I bought this book before I went to Vietnam on vacation and if provided me with far greater insights into the country than any other book I've read on Vietnam. So many books are just about the war but this one goes deep into Vietnamese life and culture, explaining so much about the place. You end up learning so much about the country. I was particularly impressed by the chapters on food, literature and religion that explained so much. A great book on Vietnam. I thoroughly recommend it.
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