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The Vietnamese Gulag Hardcover – March, 1986

4.2 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Toai spent time in jails in South Vietnam for antigovernment activities as a student leader, including a trip to the U.S. to deliver antiwar speeches at California universities. When the Communists took over in 1975, he went to work for the Revolutionary Finance Committee and observed at close hand the workings of the new regime. Then, without warning, he was thrown into prison, where for 28 months he suffered torture, starvation, disease and despair. Just as abruptly, he was released and allowed to leave the countrystill not knowing why he had been arrested. In this effective, absorbing memoir, the authors describe in detail the "insidious inhumanity" of the Communist government ("far worse than that of the foreign oppressors") as it took control in Saigon. Toai, who now lives in California, accurately refers to himself as the first articulate messenger of the new order, and his message is directed at "the Vietnamese community abroad who had supported the revolution, and the foreign antiwar movements that had done so much to bring it about." Illustrations.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Every Communist party in power has established prison systems that mix torture, brutality, starvation, and the use of informants to crush real and imagined enemies. Toai, a Saigon student leader in the 1960s and early 1970s, spearheaded opposition to the pro-U.S. Thieu regime, but failed to cast his lot with the Communist revolutionaries. He was swept into a Communist prison in late 1975, and here tells the story of a would-be Third Force intellectual's struggle to survive over the following two years. His vivid descriptions of prison life are interspersed with memoirs of his days as a student leader. The material is fascinating, but the narrative flashback technique is irritating. Political memoirs need not be written as if they were movie scripts. Ste ven I. Levine, Sch. of International Service, American Univ., Washington, D.C.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 351 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (March 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671603507
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671603502
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,816,503 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Joseph Bishop on March 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I read this right after reading HO CHI MINH by Duiker. Toai presents himself as a naive, idealistic student swept into the 1960s radicalism in South Vietnam. He worked with people he says he didn't know were communists, cadres from the NLF who manipulated people like Toai in their objective of undermining the government of the south while also attacking the United States and American involvement in the war started and run by the north under Ho et al.

After some years of enjoying the ego-gratifying celebrity status as a leading activist and seeing his face and name on tv and in the papers, once the NLF and NVA marched into Saigon he quickly took a job in one of their administrations. The sinecure was not to last however, and he found himself unexpectedly tossed into prison as a political risk for a couple of years. Once released, he used his wife's French citizenship to get to France - another country whose policies and involvement in Indochine he had been attacking for so long - and thence on to the USA where he still retained some celebrity status with anti-war left activists and the university system.

Toai acknowledges that the Hanoi takeover was/is not a bowl of cherries. But, his great omission is not taking sufficient responsibility for his own actions in helping that reality come to pass. I accept the idea of according youth a certain level of mitigation in their escapades but surely even someone like Toai must have grasped what was going on. Unless he was a complete and utter fool he would surely have known the nature of the system in Hanoi and what it would install in Saigon.
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Format: Hardcover
In 1943, two years before his birth in Vietnam's Mekong Delta, Toai's father and older brother joined the Vietminh, the communist underground movement in Vietnam. Toai became a National Liberation Front (NLF, Viet Cong) supporter as a high school student and rose to be an important student leader in the Saigon University during the late 1960's. He published a student magazine Tu Quet, (Self Determinination) and unswervingly followed the Viet Cong's highly-attractive propaganda line, "Peace, Freedom, Independence, Neutrality, and Social Welfare."
Toai never formally joined the Viet Cong, but, for nationalistic and idealistic reasons, he served it superbly. He led takeovers of the Vietnamese National Assembly and the Cambodian Embassy in Saigon, and lectured at Berkley to American anti-war activists (who thought his views too tame). After the North Vietnamese Army imposed peace in 1975, he became a senior official of the Ministry of Finance under the Provisional Government. He soon disagreed on purely professional grounds with a superior official and was quickly and unceremoniously tossed into jail.
Toai had previously read Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago and dismissed its substance as propaganda. When arrested, he vividly recalled Gulag's chapter 2, entitled "Arrest," in which the freshly arrested victim invariably thinks, "Who me? What for? It's a mistake, they'll clear it up." Toai consoled himself that the Gulag was in "old" Russia, and that he was in the "new" Vietnam. It turned out that there was no significant difference. He lived through two and a half years of horrors that may seem unbelievable to those who have not read Solzhenitsyn's works.
Toai was never charged with any offense, and was thus jailed for no reason at all.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a well written book, very compelling story, but that title does not do justice to the story. This book is no more about the gulags of Vietnam than it is about the cu chi tunnels of the Mekong delta.

The story is a case of mistaken identity; Mr. Toai is mistaken for another Ngo Vuong Toai and apprehended by the communist authorities as they swept thru Ho Chi Minh City after reunification in 1975. As a result of this mistake, Toai is witness to the brutality of the prison system and the indifference of the communist cadre.

He has a very captivating narration style which is refreshing in the prison gulag genre. This is not the ivan denisovich day by day account of prison life. Toai cleverly weaves his whole entire biography into the story to illustrate the various stages in the takeover of south Vietnam in the post reunification period.

The problem is that Toai is incarcerated in couple of Prisons in Ho Chi Minh City and at no point does he go to the actual gulag. His observations are limited to accounting some new arrivals that had come from the reeducation camps, the Vietnamese euphemism for work camps where prisoners are worked to death.

The book doesn't even go into any detail about these prisoners returning from the gulag. There is scant mention of the camps, no details on their names and locations, and does not go into vast network of work camps and new economic zones.

What is most fascinating about this book is the portion where Toai recounts his visit to California in the late 60s. Toai was semi famous in the student movement groups as an agitator against the South Vietnamese Regime. However, personally he was not communist, or anti-communist, but a real nationalist.
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