Ward Just's twelfth novel penetrates deeply into America's role in the world. Set in Indochina in 1965, A DANGEROUS FRIEND tells a story of "the devolution of an innocent American crusading for democracy" (VANITY FAIR), a man living the conflict of so many Americans caught in a political and spiritual crossfire. Sydney Parade, a political scientist, has left home and family in an effort to become part of something larger than himself, a foreign-aid operation in Saigon. Even before he arrives, he encounters people who reveal to him the unsettling depths of a conflict he thought he understood, and in Saigon the Vietnamese add yet another dimension. This "fabulous, tense and dramatic" (LOS ANGELES TIMES) narrative needs neither combat nor bloodshed to tell its tale. A DANGEROUS FRIEND is the beautifully constructed story of civilians who want to reform Vietnam -- but the Vietnam they see isn't the Vietnam that is.
With the appearance of his 12th novel, former journalist (and Vietnam reporter) Just (Echo House) has reason to be proud of the books he has produced, all of them thoughtful, judicious commentaries on the ironies inherent in politics, culture and human relationships. This trenchant work, set in 1965 Vietnam as the U.S. is inching toward full-scale war, may prove to be his most significant; certainly, it reflects with quiet understatement one of the central moral issues of our century. Its protagonist, Sydney Parade, is emblematic of the idealistic, dangerously na�ve Americans who felt it their mission to bring democracy to Southeast Asia. Recruited by Dicky Rostok�the brash, arrogant head of the Llewellyn Group, a foundation that purports to administer financial aid and technical assistance to Vietnam but is in reality a covert arm of Pentagon policy�Sydney leaves his wife and daughter in Darien, Conn., and travels to a country town near Saigon. Sydney is unaware of his vast ignorance of Vietnamese culture and political reality, but after he becomes involved with French expatriate and rubber plantation owner Claude Armand and his wife, Dede, a native Chicagoan, Sydney gradually loses his hubris. Eventually, he realizes that the American goal of "nation building" in Vietnam is at best a tragic delusion and at worst a cynical grasp at power. Almost accidentally, Sydney becomes the conduit for information about a U.S. Army captain captured by the VC. Ensuing events result in the annihilation of a village of innocent Vietnamese, betrayal of the Armands and the ruin of the one truly moral member of the Llewellyn staff. In spite of his good intentions, Sydney has become, as Dede Armand says, "a dangerous friend." Just gives readers an incisive vision of America's end of innocence. He does so with strongly limned characters who do not forfeit their individuality even as they are overwhelmed by history. Author tour. (May)
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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
April 19, 2000
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