From the award-winning author of The Order of the Day, a piercing account of the lesser-known conflict preceding the Vietnam War that dealt a fatal blow to French colonialism.
How can a modern army lose to an army of peasants?
Delving into the last gasps of the First Indochina War (1946–1954), which saw the communist Việt Minh take control of North Vietnam, Éric Vuillard vividly illustrates the attitudes that both enabled French colonialist abuses and ultimately led to their defeat and withdrawal. From the Michelin rubber plantation, where horrific working conditions sparked an epidemic of suicides, to the battlefield, a sense of superiority over the “yellow men” pervaded European and American forces. And, as with so many conflicts throughout history, there were key actors with a motivation deeper than nationalism or political ideology—greed. An Honorable Exit not only brings to life scenes from the war, but also looks beyond the visceral reality on the ground to the colder calculations of those who seek to benefit from conflict, whether shrewd bankers, who can turn a military win or loss into financial gain, or intelligence operatives like the CIA, who aim to influence governments across the globe.
About the Author
Éric Vuillard is an award-winning author and filmmaker who has written eleven books, including Conquistadors (winner of the 2010 Prix Ignatius J. Reilly), and La bataille d’Occident and Congo (both of which received the 2012 Prix Franz-Hessel and the 2013 Prix Valery-Larbaud). He won the 2017 Goncourt Prize, France’s most prestigious literary prize, for The Order of the Day (Other Press, 2018) and was a finalist for the International Booker Prize for The War of the Poor (Other Press, 2020). Born in Lyon in 1968, he now lives in Rennes, France.
Mark Polizzotti has translated more than fifty books from the French, including works by Gustave Flaubert, Patrick Modiano, Marguerite Duras, André Breton, and Raymond Roussel. His translation of Kibogo by Scholastique Mukasonga was short-listed for the National Book Award in 2022, and his translation of Éric Vuillard’s The War of the Poor was short-listed for the International Booker Prize in 2021. A Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and the recipient of a 2016 American Academy of Arts & Letters Award for Literature, Polizzotti is the author of eleven books, including Revolution of the Mind: The Life of André Breton (1995; rev. ed. 2009), which was a finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction; Luis Buñuel’s Los Olvidados (2006); Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited (2006); and Sympathy for the Traitor: A Translation Manifesto (2018).
“A sense of pure, distilled fury animates…An Honorable Exit, translated into an English of bladelike beauty by Mark Polizzotti…a work of ferocious reckoning, revealing the people who made the decisions and the reasons that drove them.” —Wall Street Journal
“With measured outrage and penetrating irony, [Vuillard] pillories the alternating bluster and euphemism of French decision-makers while emphasizing colonialism’s brutal toll on the Vietnamese.” —The New Yorker
“Vuillard has drawn on [a] background of protestation and distrust of power structures to produce a succession of short, biting historical narratives, distinguished by a tone of ironic exasperation…[He] writes into gray areas of history that have rarely received narrative prominence.” —New York Times Book Review
“Excoriating and profound…a remarkable work.” —The Scotsman
“An impassioned and impressionistic indictment of the cruelty and hubris that sparked the First Indochina War…delivers a powerful anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist message.” —Publishers Weekly
“For the men who led the Third Republic, France’s humiliating departure from Indochina was a defeat foretold. In prose that is both spare and searing, Éric Vuillard depicts the politicians, bankers, and military commanders who waged a war they knew was lost. Hundreds of thousands of Asian and African lives were sacrificed not on behalf of a failed bid for victory, but in craven efforts to preserve elite reputations and wealth in the name of ‘honor.’ A tour de force.” —Edward Miller, author of Misalliance: Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and the Fate of South Vietnam
Praise for The Order of the Day:
“Vuillard’s writing is spare, angry and powerful…a chilling, brilliant look at the rise of fascism in the 1930s that also works as a warning for today.” —NPR, Best Books of the Year
“Gripping…a tour de force…this unusual work…peel[s] away the veils of dissimulation, disguise and self-justification that conspire to make historical disasters appear as just the way things happen.” —Wall Street Journal
“[A] remarkable account…It captures the bizarre blend of wishful thinking, clownish self-importance, and cold calculation that characterized many of the Nazis’ powerful enablers.” —The New Yorker