The Mark: A War Correspondent's Memoir of Vietnam and Cambodia

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9781568580241: The Mark: A War Correspondent's Memoir of Vietnam and Cambodia

Chronicles the experiences of a brash young journalist who landed a job as a war correspondent for the Los Angeles Times and became an award-winning reporter after two years in Indochina. $40,000 ad/promo. Tour. IP.

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"...He's produced a nearly pure narrative of wide-eyed clarity purged of ostentatious soul-searching, geopolitical theorizing and apocalyptic special effects-- we've had all that before. What he has to offer is the texture of the search for truth in a landscape of lies. It reads almost like a coming-of-age novel, albeit a coming of age in hell. An American innocent abroad, suddenly forced to navigate murky and treacherous currents, paddling up s*** creek to the heart of darkness. In a way, I was reminded of another Mark Twain work, his memoir of his apprenticeship as a riverboat pilot on another Big Muddy-Life on the Mississippi, like The Mark a work about navigation as epistemology. The appeal of Mr. Leslie's book a quarter-century after the fact reminds us that in some ineradicable way, all of us, even those who were never there, are-- as the song goes-- 'Still in Saigon.' -- Ron Rosenbaum, The New York Observer, February 13, 1995

...Jacques Leslie falls into an assignment that, in retrospect, was one of the most coveted posts in the pantheon of journalism: Indochina during the Vietnam War. His story is not that of what took place in the war, however: This is not a mishmash of reworked scrapbook memories. It is a thoughtful examination of his life changed, what the war stripped away from him and what it left behind. -- Whit Andrews, WriterL

In the second act of "West Side Story," the musical, there's a scene that the audience weeps at. Down go the lights with the smoke-colored gels and up come the lights with the pink-colored ones, and in their warmth the streets of Manhattan-- the killing grounds for the Jets and Sharks - become what they hopefully could be. Graffiti and garbage disappear, the wilting clothes on the lines become banners, the skeletal fire escapes are stairways to paradise, and the two lovers sing, "Peace and quiet and open air, hold my hand we're halfway there...."

That same sort of transcendent experience, drenched in sunshine and bonhomie, seems to have happened to Jacques Leslie in 1973, his second year in Vietnam, and he writes about it with infectious awe in the central chapter of The Mark... Leslie's incursion into the land of coconut milk and cookies fills only 20 pages of The Mark, but his insightful reporting and evocative writing informs it all. He doesn't just tell us yesterday's news, for he often confesses to his own mixed motivations (and to his deviations in pot, opium, and prostitutes) and the inadequacies of his fellow correspondents. Try though they might to be fiber-optic cables carrying the truth to America, their predilections and blind spots often impeded them. The "mark" of the title identifies people, like Leslie, who felt most alive in the wild unpredictability (Will I be killed? Will I win a Pulitzer Prize?) and the resultant adrenaline rushes of Vietnam... -- Jack Sack, Los Angeles Times

Journalistic memoirs are often self-congratultory attempts to fortify an author's fading reputation by rehasing large chunks of history through personal anecdotes. Jacques Leslie-- foreign correspondent in Vietnam and Cambodia for the Los Angeles Times -- makes no pompous claims in The Mark. Instead, he takes readers back into the mind of an adventurous young reporter in Saigon at the height of the Vietnam war and relives the confusion, fear, wonder, and excitement of it all with an engaging honesty. -- Digby Diehl, Playboy Magazine, May 1995

Today Mill Valley writer Jacques leslie contributes lengthy articles to publications as diverse as the New York Times Magazine, Atlantic Monthly and Wired. But for more than 20 years Leslie also has been preoccupied - haunted would be a better description-- by his experience in the 1970s as a Los Angeles Times war correspondent in Vietnam and Cambodia.

It was there that Leslie, a 24-year-old graduate of Yale who at first "didn't know whether lieutenants or captains were higher ranked," took the job as Saigon-based correspondent after a Times reporter committed suicide. And it was there that Leslie, like many journalists and soldiers before him, was struck by something they called "The Mark.""Having the mark," as Leslie writes in this memoir of the same name, "meant being addicted to Vietnam, being used to intrigue and pumping adrenalin and layer after layer of lie, truth, lie, truth, until the two were indistinguishable.... People with the mark shared a yearning they suspected Vietnam of being able to satisfy, and while they hated the war (for wars are meant to be hated), they loved it even more, and hated themselves for loving it."

.....Some of the astonishing passages here have never been reported before: Leslie's description of his historic, uncharted trip into Viet Cong territory ("'WE ARE FRIENDS,' VIET CONG TELLS VISITING U.S. NEWSMAN," ran the headline) reads like something out of "Brigadoon." And it's a pleasure to watch him compile a beautifully researched expose on a high-level banking, smuggling and salvaging operation-- even if that story eventually resulted in his expulsion from Vietnam.

These events are even more fascinating the for the stories that didn't make the headlines. ...... But this is all part of the author's scathing candor. Chapters about his childhood as a neglected polio victim in posh Beverly Hills are as moving as the connection he finally feels with Vietnamese prisoners of war whose own legs have shriveled up after living for years in the "tiger cage" of South Vietnam's Con Son Island prison.

"What gave me pause was their serenity, their lack of distress at their deformation," he writes on page 6. It takes him 290 pages to understand that serenity, the gift they so happily offered, and despite many lapses along the way, we're much the better for making the trip with him. -- Patricia Holt, San Francisco Chronicle, April 17, 1995

Writing of his time in Vietnam and Cambodia after an absence of twenty years, Leslie transcends the established genres of journalism and war with intelligence, irony, and spiritual vision. He confesses the blood-voyeur thrill he felt at that time of watching others die.

When he reported from Vietnam, he thought the war existed for histypewriter and dreaded the boredom of peace. Now he has the distance to ridicule his own delusions. Anyone who has done war time with paper and a camera, anyone who has walked in others' blood to research a story will recognize the scenes and characters in The Mark. -- Robert Payne, The San Diego Review

From Booklist:

Journalist Leslie's memoir covers the Vietnam War as it reaches its desperate conclusion; Leslie was also assigned to Cambodia, where he covered the fall of the kingdom to the bloody Khmer Rouge. As a green reporter, Leslie admired the overwrought dispatches of Gloria Emerson, but when he submitted his own first efforts to her for critique, she said, "It seems obvious that you have no remarkable flair for writing." Emerson's remark was cruel, but Leslie praises her and doesn't attempt to refute her pronouncement--an act itself showing "remarkable flair," if not for writing then for graciousness. Yet Leslie's book is pretty unremarkable, filled up with an agonized self-scrutiny that is seldom engaging. For a crisper, more disciplined, certainly more informative effort, try Peter Arnett's Live from the Battlefield (1993). Indeed, some of Leslie's better pages involve a cameo from Arnett; Leslie's friend Nicholas Proffitt, author of Gardens of Stone (1983), also makes appearances. One section of Leslie's book is extraordinary, however; his account of his sojourn into a VC encampment and the stories he filed afterward. Those stories were widely discussed at the time, deservedly so, and they still make fascinating reading. John Mort

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