Halong Bay, Vietnam
Photo of Halong Bay by Andrew Hux used under a Creative Commons license.

Neil L. Jamieson, Understanding Vietnam (University of California Press, 1995).
In Salon’s Literary Guide to the World, Tom Bissell calls it

the rare book that seemingly everyone who cares about Vietnam recommends without reservation. Jamieson argues that any understanding of Vietnam must start with the fractious cultural debate that began in the first half of the 20th century over the benefits of “old” and “new” ways of Vietnamese life. From the 1930s on, Vietnam’s enterprising, tireless and often despotic communists hijacked this intracultural argument, making it a debate between Marxism and feudalism…. Jamieson’s most enlightening chapters … concern the traditional Vietnamese man or woman’s expected — and unquestioning — obedience to his or her parents and village. These tendencies remain strongly in place among rural Vietnamese. While Vietnam’s cities are producing a generation of young people less spellbound by conservative village mentality, it is a rare home indeed that lacks an altar, and requisite incense sticks, for the proper worship of one’s forebears, the rituals of which Jamieson thoroughly explains. Above all, Jamieson is admirably fair, refusing to regard Vietnam’s communists as somehow more authentically Vietnamese than its non-communists, which alone makes Understanding Vietnam a rare buoy of reasonableness.

Google Book Search has an excerpt and more. Here is a review by Rick Martin. And one by Stephen O. Murray. Herbert Mitgang offers a few words about the book and others on Vietnam in The New York Times. Dana Sachs recommends it and other books about Vietnam (.pdf file). One blogger read it on a junk in Halong Bay.

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Viceregal Lodge in Simla
Photo of the Viceregal Lodge in Simla by Mat Booth used under a Creative Commons license.

Barbara Crossette, The Great Hill Stations of Asia (Basic Books, 1999).
Across Asia, European colonialists built “hill stations,” refuges from the heat and disease of the lowlands. Usually at altitudes between 5,000 and 8,000 feet, the hill stations were built at elevations too high for disease-carrying mosquitoes, even before the link between the two was known. As Crossette writes, “[c]olonialism came and went, but the hill stations are still there, from Pakistan on the old Northwest Frontier of imperial Asia, across India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam to the mountains of Luzon in the Philippines, where Americans built one too. The hill stations are overgrown, often overpopulated, and no longer European now, but most have not lost their unique appeal.” In 1997, Crossette traveled across the region to visit the hill stations. This book combines her research and an account of what she found.

Here is Google Book Search. Here is the first chapter of the book. Here is a bio of Crossette. Alexander Frater reviewed the book in The New York Times. Kenneth Champeon reviewed it for ThingsAsian. Daniel Costello wrote about it on his blog. Crossette describes the book as “a labor of love” in this interview with Harold Channer.

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