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Seymour Topping's Novel

Published by on 2004-12-31

One of journalism's great figures, Seymour Topping, has just come out with a new novel, "Fatal Crossroads: A Novel of Vietnam 1945." It is published by EastBridge Books.

Topping has devoted much of his 50 years in journalism to covering Vietnam and China as a correspondent and editor. He became the first American correspondent to be stationed in Vietnam after World War II when in 1950 after reporting the Chinese civil war for three years he opened the Associated Press bureau in Saigon. Following two years of roaming Indochina and traveling with the French Foreign Legion along the China border, he went to posts in London and Berlin.

He joined the New York Times in 1959 and after three years in Moscow as chief correspondent became Chief Correspondent Southeast Asia. He was appointed Foreign Editor in 1969 serving later as Managing Editor for 10 years.

After retiring from the New York Times, Topping became Administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes.

The author of two acclaimed earlier books -- "Journey Between Two Chinas," and "The Peking Letter, a Novel of the Chinese Civil War" -- Topping revisits Asia frequently. He is now SanPaolo Professor Emeritus of International Journalism at Columbia University. He lives with his wife, Audrey, a photojournalist, in Scarsdale, New York.

Here is a synopsis of the novel, as provided by the publisher:

Ho Chi Minh was not always an enemy of the United States. There was a time near the close of World War II when American agents of Wild Bill Donovan's Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency, lived with Ho Chi Minh, trained and armed his Vietminh cadres. One of them, a medic, saved his life.

This novel, based on those OSS operations, unfolds as the United States is poised at a fatal crossroads-to pursue President Roosevelt's vision of a trusteeship for Indochina leading to independence or allow France to resume its colonial control. On a secret mission to realize Roosevelt's vision, Travis Duncan, a special agent of the OSS, undertakes a perilous journey across the China border, eluding bandits and Japanese patrols, to Ho Chi Minh's jungle camp.

Duncan is witness in North and South Vietnam to the brutality of the no-holds struggle between Vietnamese nationalists and the French for control of the country. Two women out of Duncan's past become key actors in his mission, one, an aide to Ho Chi Minh, and the other, a Gaullist agent.

The reader will recognize the historical characters in this novel; the other characters are based on real individuals or are fictional personages. They speak to a lost opportunity in dealing with Ho Chi Minh and the French at a turning point in history that might have spared America the agony of the Vietnam War.

Pranay Gupte adds: Having been a fan and student of Topping all my long journalistic life, and having read and re-read his earlier books, I would certainly recommend "Fatal Crossroads." The reader will have a highly enjoyable literary experience, and learn a great deal of history besides.

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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