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River Of Time [Paperback]

Jon Swain
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
RRP: 9.99
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Book Description

13 May 1996
Between 1970 and 1975 Jon Swain, the English journalist portrayed in David Puttnam's film, The Killing Fields, lived in the lands of the Mekong river. This is his account of those years, and the way in which the tumultuous events affected his perceptions of life and death as Europe never could. He also describes the beauty of the Mekong landscape - the villages along its banks, surrounded by mangoes, bananas and coconuts, and the exquisite women, the odours of opium, and the region's other face - that of violence and corruption.

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River Of Time + First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers + Survival in the Killing Fields
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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (13 May 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0749320206
  • ISBN-13: 978-0749320201
  • Product Dimensions: 12.5 x 20 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 20,717 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jon Swain was born in London and spent his early years in West Bengal and at school in England. He began his career in journalism as a teenager, working in the English provinces. After a brief stint in the French Foreign Legion, his desire to be a foreign correspondent drove him first to Paris and then, in early 1970, to Indo-China to cover the Vietnam war. He stayed until 1975, working first for Agence France-Presse, the French news agency, and then as a freelance reporter and photographer, principally for The Sunday Times, BBC, Economist and Daily Mail before he joined the staff of The Sunday Times.

Jon was the only British journalist in Phnom Penh when it fell to the Khmer Rouge in April 1975. His coverage of these events and their horrific aftermath won him the first of his many awards, the British Press Awards Journalist of the Year. They featured in the Oscar-winning film, The Killing Fields, and form the backdrop to River of Time, his bestselling memoir.

Jon was on the staff of The Sunday Times for 35 years. His career has taken him to most of the world's wars and disasters. His reporting reflects wide experience in Asia, Africa - where he was kidnapped for three months - and the Middle East.

Product Description


"A remarkable heart-breaking book" (Gavin Young)

"Jon Swain's powerful and moving book goes further than anything else I have read towards explaining the appeal of Indo-China and its tragic conflicts... A brilliant and unsettling examination of the age-old bonds between death, beauty, violence and the imagination, which came together in Vietnam and nowhere else" (J. G. Ballard Sunday Times)

"An absolutely riveting book... Haunting, compulsive and beautifully written, River of Time looks set to become a classic" (Alexander Frater Observer)

"His book is a damning indictment and a triumphant witness. Brief, wrenching, it is surely the freshest and most sensitive account of those times" (Michael Binyon The Times)

"A sombre, magnificent book" (Daily Mail)

Book Description

'A romantic, evocative and touching book, the story of a young man's coming-of-age in the shocking but desperately alluring war zones of Cambodia and Vietnam' Sunday Telegraph

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A heart-rending, thought-provoking biography 21 Jun 2001
I bought this book while in Phnom Penh and reading it while there, added a poignancy to an already heart-rending experience. The first lines of the book said it all to me because I fell in love with the Mekong myself, and the people who live on its banks. Jon Swain's book River of Time touched me like Cambodia touched me and I came away from the country utterly entranced. The author depicts the lush beauty of these countries excellently, as well as the filth of war with its utter despair and futility. Swain has put into words my own sadness and imcomprehension of the Pol Pot regime, as well as the hope and good humour these people still possess. His power of description is marvellous and I recommend it whole-heartedly to anyone who wants to or has experienced the lands of the Mekong.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gruesome tale, but an outstanding book 7 Aug 2005
I have read Jon Swain's book 'River of Time' a number of times. It is an incredibly moving story. Young journalist makes his way to Indochina to cover the wars in Vietnam and Cambodia in the course of which he becomes emotionally attached to the place. I guess Jon Swain will never be able to detach himself emotionally from Indo-China. You can read that right through the whole book.
'River of Time' is a gruesome tale. Jon Swain gives a vivid description of the civil war in Cambodia, the fall of Phnom Penh and the final days at the French Embassy (also depicted in 'The Killing Fields' and in Francois Bizot's 'The Gate') and the end of Khmer Rouge rule in 1979 and the day after. He also covers the Vietnam War quite well and its end and gives a most horrendous account on the boat people and their fate. Swain's kidnapping by the Tigre People's Liberation Front in Ethiopia seems oddly out of place with this Indo-China tale, but to me it seemed emotionally important for understanding the rest of the book.
For anyone interested in Indo-China this is compulsory reading.
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly wonderful book 21 May 2003
By A Customer
I read this book after a three week trip to Vietnam and Cambodia at the end of last year (and having had numerous badly photocopied versions thrust at me on the streets of Saigon!) I had visited many of the places that Jon wrote about and, like him and many many others, was captivated by it all in a way that is difficult to put your finger on. This book is nothing less than a love story but a very sad and poignant one - you can literally feel Jon's heartache as he realises that the countries have been changed forever by the massive political upheaval and events throughout the 1970s, which he witnessed so closely.
I think the book spoke to me more because I had recently visited the area but I would like to think that other readers would enjoy it despite having not gone there. It is beautifully written but in an easy style - I read it over a few evenings. It is the sort of book you can't put down but don't want it to end. The circumstances of reading it obviously influenced me greatly but this is definitely one of the best books that I have ever read. Highly recommended.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply wonderful 11 Jun 2004
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Having spent a great deal of time in SE Asia, I picked up this book with some trepidation: since Michael Herr's brilliant "Dispatches" there have been an awful lot of derivative books about gung-ho boys with toys running around getting shot at during the Vietnam War. This though, was different. This does cover the war, and its effects on the region, but the slant is much more personal and thoughful. Swain realises that there is an entrenched culture of beauty and delicacy mixed with a near-veneration for death and auto-destruction. This book has come closer to understanding the people and culture of the area than any other book i can remember. The book's observations of the profound changes which the region has gone through is spot-on. More importantly, this is a love-letter to a lost land, to lost lovers and friends. The passion and deep romanticism are very moving. I can't remember the last time i read a book so sensitive and delicate.
If you want to understand what European hubris has done to world, you must read this. Is this travel writing? a love story? a war story? all of them, but it doesnt matter. Read this, and then tell your friends to read it too.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars remarkable, moving and sad 7 July 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
An excellent and moving account of Jon Swain's time as a journalist in Cambodia and Vietnam in the 70s. Anyone who has visited these countries can, in a small way,identify with the pull this region had on certain people. Jon Swain is very honest about his intoxication and fascination with both the region and the horrors of war and his determination to be part of it at all costs - giving up a good job to go freelance probably stifled his early journalist career. There is a certain sadness in someone who had (and knows he had)the best years of his life as a relatively early age. I lived in Hong Kong in the 80s and I meet several Vietnam era journalist in the FCC for whom Vietnam was the peak of their professional and personal lives and everything after paled in comparison. Some of them were sad figures. However, for anyone who wants a view of the Indo china conflict from the journalist point of view I would highly recommend this book in conjunction with Christopher J Kock's novel Highways to a war, in which the main character is partly based on camerman Neil Davis who covered the vietnam war only to be later killed in a minor coup in Thailand.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars fine book
The most melancholic moving and yet informative travel book I have read. In a time when fascist theocratic groups want to return countries to the Middle Ages this touches on the... Read more
Published 4 months ago by tucholsky
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
I chose this book for a friend who was going off travelling in this particular area - he found it interesting & an insight to the country he was going too.
Published 5 months ago by Ann E. C. Baker
1.0 out of 5 stars A story of excess
Having just returned from a break in Cambodia and Vietnam, where we visited the Killing Fields, War Remnants Museum etc. Read more
Published 6 months ago by thehighrise
5.0 out of 5 stars A love affair with Indochina
A hugely evocative tale of wanderlust, nostalgia, courage, horror, love, guilt, indulgence, loss, life, death. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Mr Andy Thornton
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous
A touching and enchanting book. I have read several books based on this subject and have visited Vietnam and Cambodia a couple of times. Read more
Published 8 months ago by MISS A POSTOLOWSKY
4.0 out of 5 stars Decent
Loved the first hand account of the fall of Phnom Penh. But he talks a lot about all the things he got up to as a young journalist in south east Asia like the opium dens and those... Read more
Published 14 months ago by E
5.0 out of 5 stars A really enjoyable read
Jon Swain's recount of his time in Vietnam and Cambodia offered a unique insight into a war journalists experiences during the war in India-China. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Linda Morris
5.0 out of 5 stars Good intro to history of the region
I didnt know anything about indo-china and liked learining about it from the perspective of the author's personal/professional experience... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Amy K. Raisbeck
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes you feel like you were there and wish you could have helped.
Such a harrowing time in the history of Vietnam and Cambodia. Written with honesty and passion. This book was much better than I anticipated it could be. Read more
Published 17 months ago by christopher j lawson
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping read
This is even better than Sea of Poppies. I am waiting with impatience for the third book in this wonderful trilogy.
Published 18 months ago by Maureen Blake
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