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Diverting the Buddha reviewed by Barbara Ehrentreu
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Diverting the Buddha reviewed by Barbara Ehrentreu
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Diverting the Buddha by Bob Swartzel
 
Is there more we didn’t know about Vietnam? How did General Ky gain so much power in such a short period of time? What happened to the zeal of the Populist movement? Before I read this thin volume written by a former Vietnam War veteran, I had tried to push all of these questions to the back of my mind. Yet, Bob Swartzel has written a novel incorporating the feelings of the soldiers, the Buddhist leaders, and the leaders of corporations, who saw this land as another lucrative market. Add to this the political aspirations of our administration at that time, and the story becomes more and more complex.
 
We view the war-torn landscape through the eyes of the men of the Radio Corps; Hong, a university student who brilliantly illustrates ongoing events for her student newspaper; her father, an esteemed professor; and the executives of one of the many financial institutions who have occupied this country for their own ends. Set in the city of Hue before war destroys it, we see the manipulations of both the United States government and the bank executives as they work to dissect Vietnam for their own ends. As events escalate, the students begin to fight for their rights spurred by Buddhist monks and fomented by student leaders. In the midst of this, we see the fragile blossoming romance between Blake, an American soldier, and Hong. Though Hue has been relatively peaceful and fat cat bankers have lived comfortable lives while fighting goes on in other parts of the country, this soon changes. As Hue starts to disintegrate, Hong and her father are thrown into dangerous situations. At the same time a bank vice president living a luxurious existence gets a visit from an influential Texan who will change his life.
 
The story I liked the most is the romance between Blake and Hong. Their youth and enthusiasm are in direct contrast to the seediness and slothfulness of both the military leaders and the bank executives. Swartzel writes with authority about military and corporate matters and his description of the Buddhist temples is excellent. Because of this authenticity the reader is plunged deeply into the destructive atmosphere that was Vietnam in 1966. We feel the mud and smell the blood of dead bodies. Usually I don’t like to read these kinds of books, but by the middle of the book, the reader has been sucked into the story like the boots of the soldiers who must patrol constantly watching for the enemy and never trusting anyone.
 
I highly recommend this book for all people who would like to know the real story of the war in Vietnam. It truly shows the effect that war can have on a country and its institutions.
 
Reviewed by Barbara Ehrentreu
 
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