The Spy Who Loved Us: The Vietnam War and Pham Xuan An's Dangerous Game

Thomas A. Bass, Author . PublicAffairs $26.95 (297p) ISBN 978-1-58648-409-5

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.)

Reviewed on: 10/06/2008
Release date: 02/01/2009
Genre: Nonfiction
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