I’d come expecting to detest Tao Thinh, I left detesting him, but for a strange moment in between, a moment that was of hours’, perhaps days’, duration, I experienced with him a kind of devilish sympathy that made for an intimacy closer, and, in its way, more disarming, even incantatory, than would have been possible had our natures harmonized.
We talked over a period of days. The tape recorder is a barnyard of false starts, awkward advances, gauche retreats. Only occasionally is there a clear attack, a progress towards the subject. Without violating the accuracy of his portrait in any essential way, I am preserving here only these authentic developments.
We spoke in of all places Bao Kim, the Vevey of Annam. Here the abstemious Thinh has apied à terre, scarcely more than a pair of shacks linked by a courtyard in which is tethered the beautiful incarnation of the devil which may be the only form of non-vegetable life Thinh loves: Kho Tuy, the Leopard, for whom Thinh procures meat, drink, and, yes, sex, but who remains, in Thinh's proud description, “implacable in his hatred of me and of any who murder his liberty.” This living icon dominated our talk, and now dominates my mind as I work to see Nguyen Tao Thinh there on the planks of Annemese cedar angled from his shack towards the mint-edged lake in the almost alipine semi-circle of the Ran Chieu Hills which, for Thinh, have each a personality so powerful that he jokes about assigning them telephone numbers and putting them in the Military Directory. “They know me better than any man. You might wish to interview them about me.”
Since his deposition in the coup of May 8, Thinh has stayed in these hills, usually with his marvelously beautiful Japanese companion, Daibata, and their child, a two-year-old boy as beautiful as his mother, as spare and wired as his father, but sightless. The interview as printed here will not reveal Thinh’s extraordinary feelings about his only recognized child. (There are supposedly five children whose mother is the Thai princess to whom he was married nine years, and about whom he not only would not talk but whose name made him suddenly vacant as if a question had been asked about the hobbies of the chairs we sat on.)
Our talk was in French, which he speaks with a strong Annemese accent but with complete fluency.