Edgar Tiffany’s Audie Murphy in Saigon: Fictions and Nonfictions (293 pp. $14.95, paper; $7.99, Kindle) is a mind-blowing literary work divided into into two parts. The first, “Nonfictions,” consists of memories of Tiffany’s service in Vietnam, some of which he refers to as “anti-memories.” The second, “Fictions,” is made up of five major pieces, including the title story.
Edgar “Buzz” Tiffany enlisted in the U.S. Army when he was 18. He went on to serve with the 1st Infantry Division in the Vietnam War in 1966 and 1967. In addition to his thoughts about his military experiences, the nonfiction section contains Tiffany’s examination of movies and books based on the Vietnam War and other American conflicts.
Audie Murphy, the Medal of Honor recipient and the most decorated soldier of World War II, plays an important role in the book. Murphy starred in the 1958 movie version of Graham Greene’s novel The Quiet American, much of which was filmed on location in South Vietnam. Tiffany considers The Quiet American the one book that attempts to get at the profound meaning of the Vietnam War—its history, its people, the land, the wars. He says you can see the influence of The Quiet American in serious nonfiction books such as The Forever War by Dexter Filkins and The Operators by Michael Hastings.
After drawing a direct connection between The Quiet American and Michael Herr’s Dispatches, Tiffany suggests that the best nonfiction books on the Vietnam War are David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest and The Making of a Quagmire and Neil Sheehan’s A Bright, Shining Lie.
Tiffany realized while he was in Vietnam that he would one day write a novel about the war. Not “the Vietnam of America,” he says, “but the Vietnam identified by its own aromas, clamor, craftsmanship, industry, mimicry, art, and adaptation.” A book like that is “real literature,” he says, akin to James Joyce’s Ulysses. Such a book,” Tiffany writes, “written about war-time Saigon, as lost as it was, would serve as a blueprint to resurrect not only Saigon, but an American experience in Vietnam.”
Tiffany returned to Vietnam in 1994. He found the former Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, to be “a city with “three personalities—Vietnamese, French, and American—although the American fingerprint was fast fading.” When he went back four years later he encountered a significant Russian presence.
The fiction pieces are bizarre stories centered on the theme of death and resurrection. They are written in a literarily poetic form, as in in this sentence about snow:
“It fell slowly, whitely, from a bank of blackness overhead to blanket the blackness of the earth.”
In the next-to-last entry, the book’s title story, Tiffany writes about a Special Forces captain who has been ordered to Saigon because of rumors of a possible coup. It’s November 1963, a moment when, Tiffany writes, “burned Buddhists did not rise from the ashes like the Phoenix but were swept into dustpans.”
The captain is in a room with “a telephone big enough to beat a man to death.” Also in that room is a photograph of Audie Murphy taken when he was in Saigon filming The Quiet American.
This book was a pleasure to read. So much so that as soon as I finished, I immediately turned back to the first page and began to read it again.
Get this one for your library.