I have had this book sitting in my “to read” pile since I came back from a holiday in Vietnam in 2013 and a bit put off reading it by the size of the book.
I’m interested in Ho Chi Minh in part because of what happened in Vietnam and also because of the way our guide in Hanoi spoke about him, with reverence and respect.
This book pieces together, as far as was possible in 2000 and 2010, the life of HO Chi Minh. This isn’t an easy task as Ho had many aliases and wrote various “autobiographies” obscuring much of his early life. There is also material in France, Russia, China and Vietnam that isn’t yet available to biographers.
I think the author, who was a USA Foreign Office official, is quite pro-Ho Chi Minh without being pro-communist. He write with empathy about a man who, as he sees it, is primarily about achieving independence for Vietnam and doing it in the most bloodless and pragmatic way.
In this book Ho comes across as someone who believes communism gives Vietnam the best opportunity to achieve independence and to create prosperity for all.
The later stages of the book, post-WW2, become more about the struggle for a free Vietnam, reunification and the war than about Ho Chi Minh. The level of detail, about things I’m not particularly interested in, made the later parts of the book feel quite chewy!
I enjoyed finding out more about Ho Chi Minh the person, in so far as the detail is known, and comparing it to the information given by our guide in Hanoi. Our guide was adamant that Ho had never married and had no children. The book states he was married at least once and had at least 2 daughters, including one born to his much younger secretary whilst he was President of Vietnam!
I also enjoyed finding out about the Indochina Ho grew up in and his involvement in the new and, in those days, exciting concept of communism. I can understand why the people of the region were keen to become autonomous countries and can’t help but feel there could have been a different way than through all the bloodshed and bitterness.
Would I recommend this book? An equivocal yes. It’s a good way to find out about Ho the person, early communism across Europe and Asia and the development of Vietnam. If you decide to read it I’d recommend doing it in short chunks and taking time to reflect – and read something more frivolous – in between chunks.