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This book is a good general introduction to Ho Chi Minh and Vietnamese history, but lacks crucial insight into Ho's life after World War 2, which is very disappointing. Ho Chi Minh was a remarkable person if only for the number of languages he spoke (French, English, Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese) and the breadth of his knowledge and experience. He is very unlike the grim, close-minded communist stereotype. Ho's globe-trotting life, however, makes the biographer's job tremendously difficult, as he frequently went from one corner of the world to another, often living in secrecy or in remote jungles with a small group of colleagues.
Conducting interviews with people who knew Ho and his colleagues is probably not possible today. Those still living who knew Ho would be very reluctant to speak candidly about him, especially with a stranger from overseas, now that he is such a politicized figure in Vietnam. And those willing to speak about him (usually derogatorily) are usually members of the Vietnamese diaspora who have an axe to grind.
Reading this book, you can really sense the difficulty of finding records of Ho's life in Russia, China and Vietnam. His life in France and Hong Kong is well researched, but there are gaping holes in the biography at the most critical junctures, especially after his return to Vietnam.
Ho's decision to return to Vietnam after over 30 years abroad is not explained. Nor is his relationship to important figures such as Stalin, Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai. Also, the biography suffers from a rigid chronological structure, which is very confusing given Ho's complex life. Broader trends and patterns are rarely explained. Sometimes you feel the author is just trying to move you along to a period where he has done some research or has materials to draw upon.
I suppose it is most telling that the author often cites extremely unreliable Vietnamese propaganda and Ho's own autobiographies as the sole source for some aspects of Ho's life.
Well, I still believe this book is good, and I can't blame the author for not being able to spend a decade doing research in Vietnam, China and Russia to dig up scarce sources on Ho's life. Maybe Robert Caro will one day become interested in writing about Ho, and will spend 20 years researching his life, as he did with Lyndon Johnson's. Of course, he'd have to learn Chinese, Russian and Vietnamese along the way...
The sad fact is that Ho, like most figures in history will only be known in an incomplete way. It's so sad that we have complete biographies of the boring buffoons who are in power today, but are in the dark about much more interesting figures.Ho Chi Minh: A Life Overview
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