In the early 90s, I met John Colvin, a retired British Diplomat with postings in Oslo, Vienna, Kuala Lumpur, Hanoi (where he was Consul General from 1965-71), Ulan Bator and Washington.
Already accredited with two books he came to see me with a proposition, to look at a manuscript he had written entitled The Lions of Judah, which Quartet then published.
We became friends and as a result he was responsible for nominating me to membership of the exclusive Beefsteak Club, which I’m glad to say was accepted.
One of my great heroes at the time was General Nguyen Giap who died last weekend at the age of 102. Who else, I thought, would chronicle his life better than John Colvin who seemed well-versed on the subject.
I quickly commissioned him to do a full-blown biography of Giap, considered by many to be the greatest military commander of the twentieth century. The birth of the book took place in 1996 under the appropriate title, Volcano Under Snow.
Victorious in numerous battles against, successively, the Japanese, the French and the Americans, Giap became North Vietnam’s minister for defence and commander-in-chief. He worked with Ho Chi Minh to create the armies and support for under-equipped forces that would eventually triumph over the might of the USA with a crushing defeat of France at the famous battle of Dien Bien Phu.
Japanese occupation lasted from 1944-45, during which time Ho Chi Minh’s revolutionary League for Independent Vietnam became the most powerful force in the country. Despite pressure for independence, the victorious Allies of World War Two restored French control – thus beginning thirty years of war in Vietnam.
John Colvin’s biography describes the extraordinary single-mindedness with which Giap pursued victory. Giap knew that the North Vietnamese ability to sustain the war would eventually bring success. Colvin shows the enormous human cost as well as the magnificent dedication that this required. Colvin’s great knowledge of Vietnam and its people added a certain authenticity and strength to this biography, which provides a portrait of Giap’s military genius and a comprehensive history of the Vietnam wars.
The book, which is still available from Quartet at £25, is an important historical chronicle of one of the bloodiest battles to have been fought with unusual ferocity and without regard for the sanctity of human life.
Order your copy now before stocks run out.