|Vintage Pulp||Nov 14 2019|
We expected lightweight erotica but got stuck in a quagmire.
“Don't worry, Mom. We've got penicillin...” With a cover blurb like that, we thought Vietnam Underside! might be something along the lines of L.J. Brown's infamous sleaze novel Viet-Nookie, but no. Instead, the book is a deadly serious history of prostitution and sexual practices in Vietnam from the mid-1800s to the date of publication, which is 1966. It's also—and there's no grey area here—virulently racist. Leland Gardner writes reams about the depravity of the Annamites (an 1800s word used to refer to the Vietnamese), disparages in the most detailed terms their hygiene, morality, ethics, customs, religion, history, mentality, intelligence, and more. He accuses them of practicing pederasty, of allowing incest between pre-teens, and of being inherently promiscuous. The diseases they're allegedly rife with include yellow fever, elephantaisis, syphilis, and gonorrhea, all subsequently inflicted upon ivory pure Westerners. When Gardner writes something true—for instance about the deleterious effects of betel nut chewing on the teeth and mouth—he goes on, and on, and on. He describes Vietnamese women as having “black lacquered teeth and blood red mouths” at least fifty times. Interesting, isn't it, that just when your country's overseas invasion is ramping up you find that, basically, your foes don't deserve to live? Gardner actually claims the Vietnamese were well on their way to self-destruction long before the Yanks showed up. He writes about the war: “[these] decadent, deteriorating people have been adopted by a benevolent Uncle Sam.” Right at that instant Vietnam Underside! got to be too much, so we scrambled to the top of the literary embassy and barely got the last helicopter out. When it comes to choosing books based on the cover art, you win some and you lose some.