History is narrated by the victors. At least within the boundaries of Vietnam. Outside of its borders, the South Vietnamese flags still fly and the Fall of Saigon has been documented in hundreds of historical accounts by American journalists, Vietnam veterans, and, of course, the exiles – ex-pats. Youtube videos abound both in English as well as Vietnamese that expound on the experience of Nationalists on the South Vietnam side.
Below is a list of my top ten favorite go-to books to learn about the events of the Fall of Saigon. This list is biased. I’m an ex-pat – deal with it. I also, as always lean on books written for and by POC – Vietnamese Americans – however, there are a few exceptions that I’ve featured here because they are excellent for their narrative quality, in depth detail, and eye-witness accounts.
These books are not ranked in any particular order but alphabetical by title and I do not make any recommendations as to their superiority over any other published books. These are simply books that I like because they have such a rich amount of detail that you are able to transport yourself back to that time in the cruelest of Aprils in 1975.
- A History: Saigon by Nghia M. Vo – Not only does this historical book provide a detailed chapter focused on the Fall of Saigon and Communist takeover and renaming of Hồ Chí Minh City, it provides meaty chapters that go into the city’s complete history from its beginning as a Khmer village in the swampy Mekong delta to its emergence as a major political, economic and cultural hub. The city’s many transitions through the hands of the Chams, Khmers, Vietnamese, Chinese, French, Japanese, Americans, nationalists and communists are examined in detail, as well as the Saigon-led resistance to collectivization and the city’s central role in Vietnam’s perestroika-like economic reforms.
- Black April by George Veith – George Veith single handedly, on his own dime I might add, interviewed Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) veterans from all over the United States to document this incredibly detailed battle by battle perspective of the last years of the Vietnam War leading up to the Fall of Saigon. For an in depth military perspective on the complex set of factors that played a part in the eventual Fall of Saigon, there is no other book as detailed and that respects and highlights the experience of ARVN like Black April.
- Cruel April by Oliver Todd – Told from the point of view of a French journalist, this book, published fifteen years after the Fall, focuses in on the last four months of the Vietnam War delving into the complex political, military, and diplomatic relationships among the major participants: the South Vietnamese government, military, and domestic opposition; the North and South Vietnamese Communists; Americans in Vietnam and Washington; and foreign interests (Soviet, Chinese, French, etc.).
- Last Men Out by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin – Though mostly focusing on the last Marines and Marine Security Guards, specifically, at the U.S. Embassy during the Fall of Saigon, this book does an amazing job of providing a gritty history of the Americans that served on that day, and the chaos at the D.A.O. and the Embassy during the evacuation of South Vietnamese and Americans from Saigon. It helps to set the tone for what was going on in the city, the tension and conflict experienced at the ground level by Vietnamese and Americans alike, like no other book I’ve read.
- Nationalist in the Vietnam Wars by Nguyễn Công Luận – Although the Fall of Saigon is the very last chapter in this amazing memoir, Nguyễn Công Luận’s masterful memory skills, even shortly before his death, of the political and military movement in his country that lead to the eventual Fall of Saigon is priceless. This entire volume is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the Vietnamese experience from the point of view of a soldier and a Nationalist. My review of this memoir and interview with the author can be found at diaCRITICS.
- The Sacred Willow by Duong Van Mai Elliott – a four generation memoir nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 2000 that weaves together the stories of the lives of four generations of the author’s family through Vietnam’s tumultuous colonial period finally culminating in the author’s anguish as she attempted to assist family members as they try to flee Saigon as it fell.
- Song of Saigon: One Woman’s Journey to Freedom – this memoir by Christian Vietnamese author, Anh Vu Sawyer, tells the tale of her escape from Saigon when she was a 20-year-old medical student. Unlike other memoirs for which the flight out of Saigon serves as a final chapter, Sawyer’s memoir describes life in Saigon before the Fall. Sawyer’s final moments in Saigon were defined by her inability to obtain visas and her family’s desperation as they joined the panicked mob of South Vietnamese outside of the U.S. Embassy during the Fall.
- Tears before the Rain: An Oral History of the Fall of South Vietnam by Larry Engelmann – This book contains interviews with Vietnamese and Americans who were in Saigon when it fell. Covering the spectrum of individuals involved and published in 1990, this book provides narratives by Americans military and media as well as higher ups like the Joint Military Team. There were also interviews from American civilians, Vietnamese military, civilians, children, and even Vietnamese victors. The contemporaneous nature of the interviews in which individuals share their experience from their perspective is key to being able to see, feel, and experience the events of the Fall from first-hand accounts.
- The Twenty-Five Year Century: A South Vietnamese General Remembers the Indochina War to the Fall of Saigon by Lam Quang Thi – General Lam Quang Thi’s memoir chronicles his service in the Indochina War as a battery commander on the side of the French to his rise in 1966 at the age of thirty-three when he became one of the youngest generals in the Vietnamese Army. General Lam’s book provides the perspective of a senior field commander of the events of the war that lead to the Fall of Saigon. The General places the weight of the blame for the loss of the war on the American media for mischaracterizing the regimes and the efforts of the ARVN and/or sympathizing heavily with the North Vietnamese Communists. Benched by President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu on house arrest as the country fell, the General is understandably bitter. Despite that, the book provides valuable insight into the general’s perspective on the turbulence within the inner world of South Vietnam’s major political and military actors.
- The Unwanted: A Memoir of Childhood by Kien Nguyen – This memoir was poignant to me because the Amerasian author, Nguyễn Kiên, was left behind with his Vietnamese mother and estranged from his American father, a civil engineer. Though the family’s attempt to leave Saigon only occupied a small portion of the memoir, it left an imprint on me because of the impossibility of his situation. His memoir is one of the aftermath of the failure to flee Saigon in time. He eventually left Vietnam in 1985 through the United Nations “Orderly Departure Program.”