BOOKS IN BRIEF

Click to follow
2 Derailed in Uncle Ho's Victory Garden: Return to Vietnam and Cambodia by Tim Page, Touchstone pounds 14.99. "Everyone who had been there tended to get overinvolved," writes Tim Page, a photographer who produced some of the most vivid, on-the-edge pictures of the Vietnam war. "The war days had been the ultimate in experience, laden with a magic, a glamorous edge that none who went through it can truly deny."

With shattered nerves but hooked on danger, Page found that "the war was a doddle compared to the aftermath. Then, to have been a veteran instantly got you labelled as a murderer, baby killer, rapist, madman. Nobody wanted to know." In the middle of this personal and political confusion, "as sick as Vietnam" and gripped by "the need to see the roots of [his] madness", Page vowed to return to his "formative land and ride the train that would signal its reunification".

This whacky journey between Hanoi and Saigon traces the fulfilment of that promise. Its tone is determinedly offbeat, with plenty of the kind of hip jargon that betrays his vintage; it is also fascinatingly well informed on such essentials as bureaucratic corruption, the insanity of ex-servicemen, and the social and economic conditions affecting the manufacture and consumption of marijuana (the population used it medicinally; the incoming forces clung to it obsessively; the VC organised farmers to grow enormous crops of the stuff to ensure that most of the US troops were seriously befuddled most of the time).

There's something else about the tone, too; you realise that this return to his "formative land", with all its unaccustomed connotations of tourism, has allowed Page to show his love for the place. As a war photographer, his job was to record the horror; now, he can at last tell of the heart- stopping beauty of the inland valleys; describe a chattering flock of bike-mounted schoolgirls, waist-length hair streaming behind them; evoke the serendipitous chaos of markets and buses; mourn the agonies of the killing fields; celebrate colour and intense comradeship and the whole, glorious triumph over safety and domesticity. For all its cool, this is a passionate book. JD

Comments