cover image Seeing Vietnam: Encounters of the Road and Heart

Seeing Vietnam: Encounters of the Road and Heart

Thomas Merton, Susan Brownmiller. HarperCollins Publishers, $22 (228pp) ISBN 978-0-06-019049-1

Brownmiller, best known for feminist writings ( Against Our Will; Femininity ), first visited Vietnam in 1992 after travel restrictions for ordinary Americans were lifted. This is not a work of political pilgrimage. The author was instead on a magazine assignment to explore the country from a tourist's point of view. Traveling from Hanoi to the Mekong Delta, Brownmiller praises Vietnam's literacy rates while noting widespead malnourishment and the massive failure of large-scale state enterprises. She notes the continuing differences between north and south and the ecological damage caused by the war, integrating these observations into lengthy discussions of hotels, meals and plumbing, and accounts of people met and sights seen. As a travel writer, Brownmiller approaches her subjects with an ingenuous freshness that suggests the 1920s' grand-tour classic Our Hearts Were Young and Gay. Vietnam's scars, however, are still raw enough to lend an unsettling irony to such vignettes as her description of $200 spent on a dinner for four in Hanoi. (May)