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Le Colonial    by Kien Nguyen order for
Le Colonial
by Kien Nguyen
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2004 (2004)

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* *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

In the 1770s, three priests from France sail to Annam to bring Catholicism to the early peoples of what is now known as Vietnam. Their adventures are many as they try to make their way through battles, floods, and the political intricacies of warring feudal kingdoms. The oldest priest, a bishop, has to manage not only to be on the right side when battles are fought but also to keep the younger priests constant in the faith.

Both tasks are extremely difficult. The divided Annam is volatile and in imminent danger of collapse. In addition to the mutual animosity of the North and South kingdoms, the countries' farmers have banded together to rid themselves of both monarchs. This makeshift army is armed and dangerous. At the same time, the other priests' daily involvement with Annamites of all classes prompts a growing sympathy to their situation.

It is clear that, to the author, the culmination of this story is the unification of Vietnam under one monarch, although this does not happen until about seventeen years after the novel's end. But for all the perilous adventures, I found myself unmoved, possibly because the author never lets us get inside any of the characters. All action is depicted as in a film, and even though the surface is exciting, the lack of depth is disappointing.

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