This memoir was written by 1949 and first published in 1969 (Vĩnh Sơn printing house, Saigon). It tells the life experiences of Trần Trọng Kim from 1943 to 1949, including many important chapters of Vietnamese history: The establishment and dissolution of the Empire of Vietnam, the August Revolution, and the First Indochina War between Việt Minh and the French.
Here is my translation of the Preface of this book:
I wrote this memoir (Vietnamese: Kiến văn lục; Chinese: 見聞錄) to tell the truth about all the things I had done and I had known during 6 years from 1943 to 1949. It was an arduous and painful journey, so I entitled it Một cơn gió bụi (A dust storm).
Since 1883 when I was born, I have been through so many pain and despair that I feel tired of all and only wish to live a peaceful life without involving in any political acts. I was indeed reluctant to start even from the beginning.
It seems to me that this physical life was predestined by a mysterious force, a God’s plan or so. Each of us had to play our own role in this theater of life, and there is no way around.
Philosophers might say it was simply the principle of causality. It’s true, but to figure out which is cause and which is effect is not easy at all.
I believed there is a sacred aura surrounding all beings. Such aura is also the root of all existence. We call it Buddha, God, the Way of life, and many other names. Its name may vary but its true nature is the one and only. Within our self, such aura is called conscience, the master guiding our actions. Everybody has somewhat the same conscience, but libido and bias make it deteriorate.
If our conscience is righteous, God will be with us. That is why everything I’ve done, I follow my conscience. Now, I try to follow my conscience and write down my memories with neither suppression nor caricature, in order to help people know the truth.
Although this truth may influence many lives, please forgive me for being honest, as I believe in the integrity of us all.
This memoir comprises 12 chapters. Each chapter tells part of the author’s life with relevant historical events.
Chapter 1 – A helpless life: In this chapter, Trần Trọng Kim summarizes his days in 1942, when both the Japanese and the French controlled Vietnam. As an intellectual without political power, he felt useless that he could not help his people.
Chapter 2 – Go to Singapore: Trần Trọng Kim went to Singapore with other intellectuals, Dương Bá Trạc, Trần Văn Ân and Đặng Văn Ký because he believed that gathering all the patriots abroad and establishing an oversea national liberation organization could help Vietnam in the long run.
Chapter 3 – Go to Bangkok and return to Saigon: Life at Singapore was too devastating, he decided to go to Thailand where the shortage of food could be no longer a problem. Also, rumor had it there were many strong nationalist organizations here. However, it did not go as what he conceived. He then got back to Saigon.
Chapter 4 – Go to Huế and found the cabinet: From Saigon, he traveled to Huế after receiving a letter from the emperor Bảo Đại. Right here, he reunited with his family. Under the order of Bảo Đại, Trần Trọng Kim proposed a list of intellectuals who could be the members of the cabinet. This new government immediately implemented solutions to the urgent problems, like solving the famine in the North of Vietnam. However, due to so many unexpected accidents, these attempts failed. In the mean time, Việt Minh was actively propagandizing to expand its influence. Until August 1945, Việt Minh tool control of most governmental bodies in the North. Under the pressure from Việt Minh, Trần Trọng Kim persuaded Bảo Đại to abdicate. Bảo Đại agreed.
Chapter 5 – Return to Hanoi: Trần Trọng Kim got back to his hometown in Hanoi.
Chapter 6 – Under the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam: Trần Trọng Kim tells the situations under the provisional government with his remarks on how this government worked.
Chapter 7 – Vision and practices of the Communist Party: His commentary on Communism and Việt Minh movement. He also analyzed the Communists’ plan to manipulate Bảo Đại.
Chapter 8 – The relationship between the provisional government and the French: Trần Trọng Kim analyzes the Ho–Sainteny agreement, commented that it was a dilatory tactics to handle the Chinese-backed Vietnamese nationalists first.
Chapter 9 – To China: Lost his trust in both Việt Minh and the French, Trần Trọng Kim went to China, intended to form a new government with the nationalists and the help from Kuomintang, hoping that he could find a way out of this political crisis. However, he recognized that even Kuomintang was too busy fighting against the Chinese Communist Party; they could not help us.
Chapter 10 – The First Indochina War: In December 1946, Việt Minh declared war against the French. The French persuaded Bảo Đại and Trần Trọng Kim to sign an agreement to end the war and establish a new government in the South of Vietnam.
Chapter 11 – To Saigon: The French brought Trần Trọng Kim back to Saigon to establish a new government. However, arrived at Saigon, he realized the promises of the French were no more than lies. He then refused to help with a new government.
Chapter 12 – To Phnom Penh: Too tired and helpless, Trần Trọng Kim went to Phnom Penh. During this time in Phnom Penh, he collected all of his writings in diary and composed A dust storm. This book ended with his prediction on the future of Vietnam under the Communist regime and his feelings for his country.