Bass (The Eudaemonic Pie) expands his New Yorker profile of Vietnamese journalist-spy Pham Xuan An into this atmospheric study of tangled war-time loyalties. Working from 1965 to 1976 in Time magazine's Saigon bureau, An became known as a well-informed and connected reporter. Meanwhile, he passed clandestine reports and top-secret South Vietnamese and American military documents to the Communists; his intelligence purportedly helped decide several important battles. The ironies of An's character-the Communist agent who admired Americans while working to defeat them, the honest reporter (American colleagues insist he never slanted his coverage of the war) who was a little too honest with the wrong people-aren't as profound as Bass wants them to be. Nor do An's loquacious but cagey reminiscences yield much insight into the war's dynamics. (The author seems a bit credulous: "[W]ith 21 bullets remaining, he killed 21 enemy soldiers," he writes of another Vietcong agent allegedly surrounded by 700 attackers.) Bass's account succeeds mainly as an evocation of a murky Saigon during war, where truth was a rare commodity and virtually everyone had an ulterior motive. Photos, maps. (Feb.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Spy Who Loved Us: The Vietnam War and Pham Xuan An's Dangerous Gameby Thomas A. Bass
Pham Xuan An was a brilliant journalist and an even better spy. A friend to all the legendary reporters who covered the Vietnam War, he was an invaluable source of news and a font of wisdom on all things Vietnamese. At the same time, he was a masterful double agent. An inspired shape-shifter who kept his cover in place until the day he died, Pham Xuan An ranks as
Pham Xuan An was a brilliant journalist and an even better spy. A friend to all the legendary reporters who covered the Vietnam War, he was an invaluable source of news and a font of wisdom on all things Vietnamese. At the same time, he was a masterful double agent. An inspired shape-shifter who kept his cover in place until the day he died, Pham Xuan An ranks as one of the preeminent spies of the twentieth century.
When Thomas A. Bass set out to write the story of An’s remarkable career for The New Yorker, fresh revelations arrived daily during their freewheeling conversations, which began in 1992. But a good spy is always at work, and it was not until An’s death in 2006 that Bass was able to lift the veil from his carefully guarded story to offer up this fascinating portrait of a hidden life.
A masterful history that reads like a John le Carré thriller, The Spy Who Loved Us offers a vivid portrait of journalists and spies at war.
Pham Xuan An (d. 2006) was an experienced journalist at Time magazine's Saigon bureau. There, he was a delightful colleague, full of nuanced information about the war and respected for the articles he published in the Western press. But he was also Hanoi's longtime top agent in the enemy capital. While he provided analytical reports and tactical advice to field units, An's greatest success was warning the Communists about the invasions of Cambodia and Laos. He skillfully played a dangerous game of affection and careful deception, and he surely would have been executed had he been caught carrying his microfilm. Educated for two years in the United States and apparently fond of American culture, An (like so many others) just did not want Washington ruling his country. Readers will find not merely an interesting story but lessons about themselves through foreign eyes. Former reporter Bass (English & journalism, SUNY at Albany) interviewed An and others and has perhaps more Vietnamese sources than did Larry Berman for Perfect Spy. Most readers should acquaint themselves with at least one of these two good books. (Index not seen.)
Daniel K. Blewett
“I was deeply impressed by this book. It is relevant, instructive, funny. The shock of the double never goes away. Neither does the gullibility of the arrogant intruder.”
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Meet the Author
Thomas A. Bass is the author of The Eudaemonic Pie, Vietnamerica, The Predictors, and other books. Cited by the Overseas Press Club for his foreign reporting, he is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker, Wired, Smithsonian, The New York Times, and other publications. He is Professor of English and Journalism at the State University of New York in Albany.
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