During my thirteen years on and off in Vietnam, I visited Saigon so many times that I lost count. Early on—I don’t remember when—I noticed the orange-and-white propaganda banners strung across the streets. Using words without pictures, they encouraged the populace to support the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) and fight against the communists. Each one had a slogan, and I don’t remember ever seeing the same slogan repeated in a second banner.
These standards, omnipresent, became a leitmotif in Last of the Annamese. The book mentions them nine times. Their presence in a dying city and their condition become a reflection of South Vietnam’s decline. Today and tomorrow, I quote three of the references.
The first, from early in the story, is from the point of view of Chuck, the protagonist, who, unlike me, doesn’t speak Vietnamese:
“He glanced up at the orange banner stretched across the intersection. Rising hot air distorted the Vietnamese words written in the western alphabet with zany diacritical marks, dots, little question marks, and tildes over and under the letters. Chuck studied the otherworldly collection of symbols. He didn’t know what the words said, only that they were propaganda urging the populace to support the Republic of Vietnam and defeat the Communists.”