It was a happy inspiration for a writer who has spent many years studying Africa to transport himself to the other end of the world and look at the evolution of a totally different society, though one equally in the end herded by Western guns into a new era. Hodgkin brings to his task a mind trained by long observation of pre-modem communities, and sensitive to the divergences and novelties pointing towards a dénouement far removed from anything to be found in Africa, south of Algeria at any rate. He has had the benefit of much expert guidance and counsel, both Western and Vietnamese, but he is conscious of multiple difficulties, and ready to admit puzzlement at many of the things he encounters on his long road, instead of professing to have explanations for them all. It is valuable to have obscurities in the record identified, even if they cannot at present be cleared up. The result is a fine achievement, an outline and analysis of Vietnam history such as Jean Chesneaux's Contribution à l'Histoire de la Nation Vietnamienne, with a similar viewpoint, provided for French readers a generation ago, but enriched by subsequent research.
LRB 3 December 1981 | PDF Download