A Dangerous Friend

Ward Just

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999
ISBN 10: 0395856981 / ISBN 13: 9780395856987
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Synopsis: In this, his twelfth novel, Ward Just penetrates more deeply into America's role in the world than he has ever done before. This beautifully constructed large-canvas novel of Saigon in 1965 can be justly compared to Joseph Conrad's NOSTROMO or Graham Greene's THE QUIET AMERICAN. A DANGEROUS FRIEND is a thrilling narrative roiling with intrigue, mayhem, and betrayal. Here is the story of conscience and its consequences among those for whom Vietnam was neither the right fight nor the wrong fight but the only fight. The exotic tropical surroundings, the coarsening and corrupting effects of a colonial regime, the visionary delusions of the American democratizers, all play their part. In A DANGEROUS FRIEND, a few civilians with bright minds and sunny intentions want to reform Vietnam -- but the Vietnam they see isn't the Vietnam that is. Sydney Parade, a political scientist, has left home and family in an effort to become part of something larger than himself, a foreign-aid operation in Saigon. Even before he arrives, he encounters French and Americans who reveal to him the unsettling depths of a conflict he thought he understood -- and in Saigon, the Vietnamese add yet another dimension. Before long, the rampant missteps and misplaced ideals trap Parade and others in a moral crossfire.

Review: Ward Just, a former war correspondent, uses his intimate knowledge of Vietnam to advantage in this exploration of America's tangled relations with that small Southeast Asian country. Set in 1965, the last year that civilians were in control of foreign intervention, A Dangerous Friend chronicles the lives of a small band of aid workers who purport to administer financial and technical assistance to the Vietnamese; unknown to most, however, the Llewellyn Group is actually covertly linked to the Pentagon. Though told by a nameless narrator, the protagonist of this story is Sydney Parade, an idealistic American who abandons wife and child in order to help bring democracy to the third world:

We worked harder than we had ever worked in our lives, or would ever work again. We were drunk on work. Work was passion. We were in it for the long haul, and from the beginning we swam upstream.
Sydney arrives in Vietnam filled with altruistic purpose, but all too soon he finds himself up to his neck in dangerous intrigue. The head of the Llewellyn Group, Dicky Rostok, is trolling for information, and he uses Sydney's connections with a French planter and his American-born wife to further his own agenda. Despite the best of intentions, Sydney unwittingly becomes the source of information that will eventually lead to death, betrayal, and ruin. In A Dangerous Friend Ward Just conveys the depth of America's misunderstanding of the situation in Vietnam even as he illustrates how idealism unleavened by knowledge can be a perilous thing, indeed. --Alix Wilber

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Title: A Dangerous Friend
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: 1999
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Used: Good

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