The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis banned book review: ‘Saigon Gold’ by Hugh Scott

Written By: herbrunbridge - Feb• 19•15

SaigonGoldScott1As a foreign writer, what do you have to do to get your novel banned in Vietnam? You mention things that ruffle the feathers of government censors, then refuse to re-write parts of your book. Hugh Scott, with his book Saigon Gold (2008, ISBN-13: 978-0979953484), which won the 2010 Gold Medal award for fiction from the Military Writers Society of America, encountered such a dilemma. But the author went ahead anyway and wrote an edition specifically to be sold in Vietnam.

As the author describes it, “A censored version of [the] novel is published in Vietnam. Absent are cover images of a captured flag of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of Vietnam (AKA a VC flag) and the Distinguished Flying Cross military decoration as well as all references to the Peoples Republic of China and the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi. To further satisfy government authorities, a map of Vietnam was modified to include the Paracel and Spratley Islands, presumably to prove they belong to Vietnam and not the PRC which also claims control. Even ‘South China Sea’ was changed to ‘East Sea.’ So much for improving international relations.”

You can buy the banned version outside Vietnam and you should, if you like well-researched, faced-past fiction that will keep you on your toes, plot wise, for all of its 372 pages. It was hard for your WoWasis review team to believe this book was the writer’s first (and his only one, so far). Three plot lines weave their serpentine way through the tale, which begins with an American former GI returning to Vietnam. There’s tons of intrigue, involving three countries, embassy and military staffs, and officials with multiple goals, not all of them legal. Yes, it involves gold, but the most compelling plot involves a potential Chinese incursion on Vietnamese soil.

The author deals with Vietnamese personalities and philosophies in a realistic and measured manner, and our conversations with former Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army personnel aren’t very far different from those as written by Scott. He made two trips to Vietnam to check his resource material, and it shows in the small but important ways that add to the credibility of the story. When one of his characters makes a detour on an overnight drive from Nha Trang to Saigon (oops, Ho Chi Minh City, we mean), it’s pretty apparent that the author did that himself. This is an extremely complex novel that demands verisimilitude to be effective, and it holds brilliantly to that objective.

What you get here is an intense thriller with believable characters and a wild plot that isn’t marred by the gratuitous sex scenes that seem de rigueur for many novels written on the theme of western expats in Southeast Asia. Understanding that the reader might need a reference guide to the characters, the author put all 34 of the significant people appearing in the book in a two page glossary at the end. It’s useful, particularly in view of the similarities in some of the Vietnamese names.

We get the sense that this must have taken several years to write. The care the author took in getting the intricate plot and varied characters shows. And we’re still not sure what to make of the woman he hooks up with, more or less, at the end of the book. But perhaps that’s something for Scott’s next book. And we do hope there’s another one. He’ll have his work cut out for him. This is a tough one to top. Buy this book now at the WoWasis eStore.

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