Crooked Bamboo is a political memoir of Nguyen Thai’s insider account of South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem regime and the political turmoil that paved the way for the Vietnam War. Nguyen Thai served Diem prominently as Director General of Vietnam Press and as a close personal aide and translator. He also founded Vietnam’s first English-language newspaper, The Times of Vietnam.
Thai was well connected within the regime and with many of the era’s most important figures, like famed CIA officer Edward Lansdale and the “perfect spy” Pham Xuan An. Thai gradually grew disillusioned with the regime, but it took him years to successfully escape its service. After fleeing the country, Thai became a vocal critic of Diem and published a book exposing the inner-workings of the regime.
Following the November 1963 coup when Diem was overthrown and assassinated, Thai returned to Saigon and took a position in the new junta’s government, but he quickly realized nothing had changed for the better. He quit and went into private business, but he continued to get drawn into South Vietnam’s political machinations. After a close brush with death at the hands of the Viet Cong, Thai realized that South Vietnam was doomed.
Crooked Bamboo, then, is ultimately a memoir of dysfunction, chronicling a regime that, despite many hopes to the contrary, ended up failing South Vietnam and its people.