It’s 1967, and Susan Gifford is one of the first women correspondents in Saigon, dedicated to her job and passionately in love with an American TV reporter. Son is a Vietnamese photographer anxious to get his work to the American press. Together they cover every aspect of the war from combat missions to the workings of field hospitals. Then one November morning, after narrowly escaping death, Susan and Son find themselves the prisoners of three Vietcong soldiers. Helpless in the hands of the enemy, they face the jungle, living always with the threat of being killed and the slow realization that their complicated relationship is the only thing sustaining them both.
Excerpted from The Man From Saigon by Marti Leimbach. Copyright © 2010 by Marti Leimbach. Excerpted by permission of Anchor, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Marti Leimbach is the author of several novels, including the international bestseller Dying Young, which was made into a major motion picture starring Julia Roberts. Born in Washington, D.C., Leimbach attended the Creative Writing program at University of California, Irvine, and Harvard University. She currently lives in England and teaches at the University of Oxford’s Creative Writing program.
“Leimbach’s mastery of place, of the scents, sounds, terrors and sorrows of [the Vietnam War] reminded me as perhaps only a great novel can that that we are never done with a war even when it is long over, and that only wars and love endure.” —Dr. Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone
“Fast-paced, vividly descriptive. . . . Leimbach’s emphasis on a female reporter in a war that was so often covered by men is refreshing.” —The New York Times Book Review
“This impressive novel finds a new way of illuminating the horrors of an old war.” —People
“From Tim O’Brien and Denis Johnson to Bao Ninh, the war in Vietnam gave rise to long shelf of fine fiction. In this novel, set in Saigon and the jungle battlefields of 1967, Marti Leimbach nods to forerunners but still finds a path of her own. . . . Emotionally rich, viscerally intense.” —The Independent (London)
“This novel is one of the great examples of artistic imagination. Marti Leimbach was just starting grammar school at the time in which she set The Man from Saigon. She wasn’t there—but if you read this book, you will be. . . . Writers are always told in writing classes to write about what you know. What Leimbach knows and writes about superbly is the human heart, its relationship with others, and its conflicts with duty, fear, and ambition. . . . You won’t want to put it down for anything except reluctant pauses for necessities.” —Karl Marlantes, author of Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War
“With vivid description, Marti Leimbach makes you feel Gifford's breath, feel the heat, see her bleeding barefoot and listen to her thoughts. In The Man From Saigon, Leimbach shows through his characters that every aspect of life is different during war: relationships, memories and even the things that someone yearns for.” —Austin American-Statesman
“Powerful.” —Editor’s Choice, The Denver Post
“Leimbach masterfully conjures the hothouse atmosphere of foreign correspondents in Saigon in the late 1960s, and in Susan she has created a heroine who is a worthy counterpart to the real life reporters who covered the war. Whether describing a convoy taking fire, a farcical press briefing, a quiet moment between Susan and Marc, or the ironic aftermath of Susan's ordeal, Leimbach expertly captures the contradictions of the war, making this a solid addition to the literature of an endlessly reconsidered conflict.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“The Man from Saigon is stunning — so visual, so sensual and sharply realized. Almost nothing else could interest me in another book about that war, but by writing about a woman reporter in Vietnam, Leimbach makes its dark history brilliantly new.” —Karen Connelly, author of The Lizard Cage
“Leimbach does an impressive job of evoking the frenetic chaos of Saigon and the claustrophobia and suffocating humidity of the dense jungle, while her story has a vivid immediacy as it flashes backwards and forwards in a deliberately disorienting fashion. The result is intense and gripping.” —Daily Mail
1. Susan’s editor insists that the Vietnam assignment is a plum job—a chance to “distinguish yourself . . . to be somebody.” Is this why Susan says yes, or are other factors at play? If you had been in her position in 1967, would you have accepted the assignment?
2. What qualities do Marc and Son share? How do they approach the idea of allegiance and justice differently? Which man loves Susan more completely?
3. Why do you think Susan teams up with Son? What might she gain from their alliance? What advantage might Son see in working with Susan?
4. Did you trust Son? How did your impressions of him shift throughout the novel?
5. What is at the heart of Marc and Susan’s devotion to each other? Which of them proves to be stronger—emotionally and physically—while coping with the deprivations of being in country?
6. What fears do Susan and her captors (Anh, Minh, and Hien) have in common? What enables her to gradually gain their trust, protecting herself along the way? How does she challenge everything they have previously believed about women? Is their view of women very different from that of the U.S. soldiers she encounters?
7. Minh assures Susan that one day she will become a wife. Is he right to pity her for being single, or is it a sign of strength that she is unmarried when she travels to Vietnam, while Son and Marc have spouses?
8. Discuss Christine’s arrival. What does her presence reveal about Marc’s mind-set before he left for Vietnam? Why is she willing to take such a risk to bring him home safely? Could she be considered loyal?
9. How are identities formed in The Man from Saigon? What does it mean to Susan to carry a British passport? How does Marc reconcile his role as an American with the fact that his government is misleading the public? How does Son define the true Vietnamese identity? Why does he resist feeling sympathy for the Montagnards?
10. Discuss the different types of love that flourish in the novel. Which type of love proves to be the most resilient, and which the most self-sacrificing?
11. Though Susan is in a role traditionally dominated by men, she faces challenges that all members of the media endured when they tried to reveal the truth about Vietnam. Despite the military’s frequent insistence that female journalists had no business being in their path, were women in fact better equipped to meet the challenges of the job?
12. How did you interpret Son’s final note? Is it purely a generous gift for Susan, saving her from the looming Tet Offensive? How realistic is Son’s fantasy of one day marrying Susan? Had the war had a different outcome, is it conceivable they would one day marry?
13. Discuss the structure of the novel. As two points of view are presented in alternating passages after Susan’s disappearance, what do we begin to understand about Susan and Marc’s relationship? Do they perceive each other, and their relationship, in the same way?
14. How is Susan transformed by Vietnam? Are she and Marc damaged by their experiences there, or do you read their closing scenes as portraits of clarity?
15. How do previous novels by Marti Leimbach portray the concept of youth and life’s meaning in its early stages? How might her other novels have prepared her to write this one?
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