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River of Time: A Memoir of Vietnam and Cambodia Paperback – October 1, 1999
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From Library Journal
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Kirkus Reviews
Top Customer Reviews
Swain began to win me over right away. He begins the book with much the same sentiment as I expressed above. The author himself wonders what he can add to what's been written before.
The answer is: A lot.
Swain's style fits the subject: factual, but with humanity; horrified without being overwhelmed. The author's self-professed love for Indo-China is evident. The depth of his feelings enabled me to see and feel the end of Indo-China as it had been.
The highlight of the book is the description of the fall of Phnom Penh and the immediate aftermath. I have read several accounts of these events, written by Cambodians and Westerners, and I have seen "The Killing Fields". None of those tellings hold a candle to Swain's description. The misery, chaos, horror, insanity, and inhumanity comes to life in his words.
Swain's work takes it's place among the best of the field.
Swain also went to Vietnam, which at the time was full of Americans. He rode on helicopters out to the battlefield, helped rescue victims of a bombing in a movie theater, and fell in love. His descriptions and experiences, from a British point of view, adds his own special twist to the vast body of work I have read about Vietnam by Americans.
In spite of the danger, he voluntarily returned to Cambodia to experience the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge and would have been executed if it were not for the intervention of Dith Pran, the Cambodian journalist who is best known for his role in the movie The Killing Fields. Swain was captive in the French Embassy and experienced the agony of families being torn apart and marched off to their brutal deaths.
All of these experiences are captured in riveting detail and I couldn't put the book down in spite of the gruesome realistic details on every page. There are horrors, adventure and a lust for writing a good story and reporting the truths to the world. I applaud him and the profession of journalism for that.
The author writes well, and his style changes right along with the subject matter. He begins arrogantly enough, but as he encounters the Khmer Rouge takeover -- the fierce hatred in their faces while they shove hospital patients, with their bandages and IV lines, into the streets -- the author transitions into a strange kind of detachment, which doubtlessly helped him survive some intense psychological trauma. It seems unbelievable that humans could do all he describes, but other authors and sources back up the events, so I am left believing him.
At the end of the book, the author returns to postwar Vietnam and looks for a trace of its former identity amidst the destitution and depression. He finds his girlfriend's old cat near their former apartment, and it seems only the cat's combination of emotional aloofness, wariness around people, and ability to take advantage of Luck have allowed it to survive while so many humans perished, either mentally or physically.
I bought this book to help prepare for a medical trip to Cambodia, and it helped understand what the people endured. Perhaps this book shows, no matter how optimistic we may be about the potential of the human spirit, we must also be cautious.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
All I can say is this is my favorite book of all time. Jon Swain masterfully conveys the romantic tragedy that is Indo-China. Read morePublished 26 days ago by kristinkat
This is a very beautiful book, written by a thoughtful and poetic writer with an incredible life story and a unique insight into Cambodia and Vietnam at an important time in their... Read morePublished 3 months ago by K. P.
Excellent read and insight to that period of time in Vietnam/Cambodian history.Published 9 months ago by Ken Thompson
A powerful and necessary book. And he is even better looking than the handsome Julian Sands who played him in The Killing Fields.....Published 9 months ago by J. Harlow
Super book! Makes me want to return to both countries and experience more of the culture and people!Published 10 months ago by Doreen Blakebrough
Utterly absorbing and brilliant. The best writing to come out of the Vietnam/Cambodia wars. Made famous by the movie The Killing Fields this memoir is so much more as it tells the... Read morePublished 17 months ago by Conchscooter
This book will give you a true sense of the charm of South East Asia. It really will take you back if you've been there and give people a real sense of the place. Read morePublished 19 months ago by AnAnimal