Although in the UK much is known about the part played by the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP) in Vietnam's post-Second-World-War struggle against the French and the US,we know much less here about the pre-war resistance to colonialism and the varied forms it took.
In the first part of this book, Ngo Van, who was born in 1912, tells of his upbringing and early adulthood through which he became increasingly aware of the nature of the regime in this French colony. He came into contact with various oppositional groups and spent much of his time in prison for his activism. He became increasingly attached to left-opposition groups which took Trotkyist analyses as their foundation and, although they and the Stalinist ICP co-operated at times, the ICP eventually eliminated almost all the other oppositionists, by co-opting them, driving them out or killing them. Ngo Van emigrated to France in 1948.
The second part of the book recounts episodes of his time as a worker in France and his relationships with leftist thinkers there.
The first part of the book is really fascinating, both in describing Ngo Van's family life, and his activism during the 1930s and the time of the Second World War. The editors have done a fine job in introducing the author and in setting his experiences in context in what, for the uninitiated like me, would otherwise have been very confusing times (which is why it is probably best to read the editors' notes before reading the meat of the book). This part of the book ends with a poignant follow-up on the friends and colleagues he had known in Vietnam, almost all of whom were killed or died.
The second part of the book is less successful, since the anecdotes are more disjointed; Ngo Van died in 2005, before he could make this part of the story more coherent. But it is nonetheless fascinating in recounting the experiences of an immigrant worker in 1950s and 1960s France, and includes a short piece on his involvement in a factory occupation in the May days of 1968.
Ngo Van comes across as a highly intelligent, committed, hardy and humane man who somehow managed to come through dangerous and turbulent times to live a long life and chronicle his times. I warmly recommended the book to anyone who wants to understand the roots of the Vietnamese post-war resistance against the French and the US, or who simply wants to read the biography of an amazing man.