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During the Vietnam War, Time reporter Pham Xuan An befriended everyone who was anyone in Saigon, including American journalists such as David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan, the CIA's William Colby, and the legendary Colonel Edward Lansdale—not to mention the most influential members of the South Vietnamese government and army. None of them ever guessed that he was also providing strategic intelligence to Hanoi, smuggling invisible ink messages into the jungle inside egg rolls. His early reports were so accurate that General Giap joked, "We are now in the U.S. war room."
In Perfect Spy, Larry Berman, who An considered his official American biographer, chronicles the extraordinary life of one of the twentieth century's most fascinating spies.
Publishers Weekly Review
© Publishers Weekly
Which side was he really on?
No mere intelligence functionary, Pham Xuan An ( here after: An ) was perhaps Viet Cong's longest working, most successful, and most interesting super spy. He was never caught. And when the dust from the Viet Nam war settled, he was made a national hero.
"Which side were you really on?" Is a question asked by most of those who knew An. Everyone knew him as a pro-American, humble, South Viet Nam journalist, who studied in the U.S., worked for Time and Reuters, and was an expert dog and bird trainer.
"Which side were you really on?" Is also one of the driving questions for the author of Perfect Spy. In his attempt to unravel and reveal the complex, gifted, and often endearing person known as An, Larry Berman brings to bear on his investigation an extraordinary wealth of resources, including hundreds of hours of interviews with An himself. Berman also interviews extensively An's formidable network of friends and associates, including many famous Viet Nam era journalists, CIA agents, and military personnel from both the North and the South.
Everybody loved An. Most continued to love and respect him long after it was discovered -- after the American withdrawal from the war -- that he had been working for the North.
An answers the question this way: "I fought for my country, not against the Americans." This will no doubt sound to most of us like equivocation. The Perfect Spy, however, makes a profoundly compelling and nuanced case for the life of a man whose actions and values defy any perfectly simple categorization. In this respect, An makes the perfect lens through which to look at a war where nothing was as it seemed.
Larry Berman's book on An and Viet Nam is utterly delightful, at times suspenseful, and full of political -- as well as cultural -- intrigue. Berman treats his subject with a copious compassion and well-disciplined scholarly objectivity.
I loved this book.
- Category: Asia
- Published: Oct 13, 2009
- Publisher: HarperCollins e-books
- Seller: HarperCollins
- Print Length: 336 Pages
- Language: English