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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
For Americans of a certain age, Vietnam is not so much a destination as it is a scar on the national psyche: a once-gaping wound, inelegantly sutured by both time and a pervasive, deliberate forgetting. Nearly three decades after the war it is still the rare traveler who visits Vietnam, to see what really lies beneath the bandage of our collective amnesia. Yet author Edward Gargan has done just that with The River's Tale. Uniquely qualified as journalist, linguist, and scholar (not to mention formerly imprisoned draft resister), Gargan offers a reflective personal account, full of passion and exasperation, of his year of travels along the Mekong River, from its beginnings (as the Dzachu) in the mountains of Tibet to its sprawling finish in the vast, fecund Mekong Delta south of Saigon.
The River's Tale is also a thought-provoking primer on the complicated history, culture, and politics of the whole of Southeast Asia. In this region as nowhere else, where the twitching remains of U.S. bombing missions linger on in Laos, where the Cambodian "killing fields" still have the power to terrorize, where the everyday extermination of a people (and their faith) marches on in Tibet, the personal is the political -- and our teachers are the people of the Mekong, who, feeling the frisson of traditional vs. modern/Western culture, share their own oftentimes heartbreaking and sometimes hopeful stories, gradually and inexorably revealing realities too long denied. Engrossing and important, The River's Tale is a work that Americans would do well to read -- not just as an act of healing, but of prevention as well. (Janet Dudley)