Drawing from his experience as a journalist in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Ethiopia, Swain looks back on his love affair with Indo-China, the fall of Saigon and then Phnom Penh, the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime, and the transformation of Cambodia. Also the Vietnamese boat people, the lifestyles and adventures of nerve-frayed (or jaded, or conflict-addicted) war correspondents, and his three months of captivity at the hands of Ethiopian guerrillas. It’s rich in his nostalgia and vivid in its descriptions and it’ll stick in the memory. The reader might not always agree with Swain, or how he approaches certain topics, but will appreciate the writing itself and his candor in sharing a very personal experience. I got the impression he wrote this primarily, or perhaps entirely, for himself, to capture his time in those places of a fading past, which makes it all the more compelling.
Excerpt from the epilogue of Jon Swain’s River of Time:
I was in Indo-China for only five years. But I know that in my heart I will be there all my life. I will always lament its romantic past and sentimentalise the grand adventure of death we lived through in the midst of such ravishing beauty. Perhaps I am deceived by unworldly dreams. Perhaps I weave too many illusions about the past. But I don’t believe it was just a romantic fantasy. After years of travel, I have encountered nowhere like Indo-China, and I am not alone in this. Whole generations of westerners who went out there as soldiers, doctors, planters or journalists like myself, to document the sorrow, the tragedy and the stories of its wars, lost their hearts to these lands of the Mekong. They are places that take over a man’s soul. The pain of memory endures alongside this nostalgia. Some memories remained buried in a body bag so deep within me that it was years before I let them out.