We can’t let May 19th pass without a gesture toward the man the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam claims was born that day in 1890, who sometimes called himself Ho Chi Minh. Whoever he was, he certainly was a diasporic Vietnamese, an artist, and boy did he network. He developed on the same trails the national script did in the 17th century, in letters between Europe and Asia. In diaspora he became one of the communist stalwarts of the twentieth century, with a place in the history of the party in France, Malaysia, Thailand and China before he set foot in Ha Noi for the first time, a sick old man, last of the bolsheviks, bullied by Maoists. Monique Truong likes to point out that she never identifies the Ho character in her novel Book of Salt as such. The man who really nailed him in fiction, in one of the bright stories of the brief, first doi moi era, lost his job at the national literary magazine and now maintains it was all a misunderstanding. That is why Ho remains in shadow. Ho is not really more of an enigma than anyone else in the historic record, especially for a secret revolutionary, but to give a clear picture of him you have to own up to what exactly you think about the twentieth century. Who wants to do that, in Ha Noi or Los Angeles? Happy birthday, Ho Chi Minh, and as the Foreign Office said when Richard Nixon died, may you rest in peace.
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