Review of War Comes to Long An

Jeffrey Race, War Comes to Long An: Revolutionary Conflict in a Vietnamese Province.

Updated and expanded edition, with new forewords by Robert K. Brigham and Jeffrey Record.

Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010. Pp. xxxiii, 332; photographs, maps, tables, appendices, glossary, index.

Reviewed by Michael J. Montesano.

Few books occupy a more curious place in the history of academic study of Southeast Asia than Jeffrey Race’s War Comes to Long An (WCLA), now re-issued in expanded form by the University of California Press nearly four decades after its initial publication. Since its appearance in 1972, this dense account of communist victory in a single province of the former South Vietnam has never gone out of print. A generation ago, rare was the graduate student at an American university—and rarer still the faculty member—with an interest in Vietnam or in modern Southeast Asia’s history and politics who did not add the book to his or her personal library. Even among scholars with no particular interest in the Vietnam War, the book’s familiar red spine and its cover photograph—showing the bomb-rack of an American plane flying over the flat ricelands of the Mekong Delta, a hamlet burning just after an air-strike far below—figured for many of us as a familiar part of our dissertation advisors’ office décor.

The sheer volume of scholarship on Southeast Asia—and not least on Vietnam—across the disciplines has multiplied many times over since the 1980s, and even since the 1990s. Nevertheless, WCLA retains its place in the Southeast Asian “area studies” canon. It enjoys this status despite (or is it because of?) the fact that its author, while prolific in the years immediately following WCLA’s publication, did not embark on a conventional academic career or write a second book. Indeed, Jeffrey Race has long represented a somewhat mysterious figure to many admirers of his work.

Skeptics trained in Southeast Asian and Vietnamese studies in the last decade or so need only test for themselves the enduring consensus that WCLA is a good and important book. They need only, that is, ask around in order to discover the positive, if often rather vague, regard in which scholars still hold it. They would also do well, however, to quiz those whom they ask about WCLA on what exactly they took away from it. For to return to it in these times, really to sit down and read it from cover, proves in two respects a rather astonishing experience . . .

The remainder of this review is available at here.

An interview with Jeffrey Race, considering the origins and legacies of his book, is available here.

Michael Montesano is a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore and the book review editor for New Mandala.  This review and the accompanying interview are presented in cooperation with the editors of The Journal of Vietnamese Studies and the University of California Press.  Special thanks for making this possible are owed to Trang Cao, Tuong Vu, Peter Zinoman, and the University of California Press.

About Mike Montesano, Book Review Editor