Neil Jamieson learned Vietnamese in the Army then they sent him to the Philippines where he listened to signals. So he left the service and made his way to Washington, DC to look for a job in Viet Nam.
Allies from Saigon often say that if the United States had more men like Neil our side might have won. Neil’s great skill in counter-insurgency was to listen.
Don’t drive home that way, someone might say, and he would take another road and arrive safe, unarmed. When he got home from the war he wrote and rewrote a book so Americans could listen to Viet Nam.
Although he worked with farmers during the war and again afterwards, his Understanding Viet Nam reports on the views of the nation’s intellectuals. Those who struggled for fifty years before the United States arrived included journalists, novelists and poets whose work Neil translated for a manuscript many times longer than his published book.
One of them, Nhat Linh, was born this day in 1905 in one of the protectorates and colonies of Indochine. By the time he killed himself in 1963 there were not only one but two nations slugging it out to be Viet Nam.
An anti-colonialist, he was a terrible revolutionary, always outflanked by Communists while he was busy publishing. But the urban audience he built for fiction and poetry has defined the new nation at home and in diaspora as well as anything the victorious government has done.
I often think that if he was born here he would have written science fiction. His best work is about reverie and about the overlaps and contradictions of desire and necessity.
Read Jason Rainey’s comic adaptation from James Banerian’s translation of his “Two Beauties,” about an artist drawing poverty. For a complimentary booklet including this story with overview of his life and work make a donation in any amount.