River of Time is part war correspondent’s memoir, part love letter to Indochina.
Jon Swain is a former British war correspondent, who reported from Vietnam in the later days of the war, and from Cambodia during the fall of Phnom Penh.
After Southeast Asian studies at university, I couldn’t help but be annoyed by the Orientalism of the book, for example in Swain’s nostalgia for French Indochina and colonial culture, or in his depiction of locals and his relationship with them.
Also, like many war correspondents, Swain has a taste for war that I have a hard time relating with. He documented its horrors, but also enjoyed its thrill, writing “This was the best time of my life”. He actively sought conflict zones, feeling out of place in peacetime London.
Nevertheless, because of his attachment and dedication to Southeast Asia and its people, Swain gave everything to cover the conflicts, and his memoir is an honest, heartfelt account of it all.
There is guilt, loss, pain, grief. But the feeling that River of Time ultimately left me with is one of love.