HANG BAC STREET - 1863

 

 


LONG BIEN BRIDGE - 1926

 

 

in the words of those that follow "I bought this novel from a little boy on a Hanoi street corner.... not quite knowing what to expect..."

(amazon.com readers)

I bought this novel from a little boy on a Hanoi street corner. From the first page, it haunted and astonished me. In the past, I have sometimes taught a course on the literature of WWI; "Sorrow of War" immediately reminded me of "All Quiet on the Western Front," but because the Vietnam War dominated my life in my 20s, Bao Ninh's novel was even more brutally, poetically immediate. I decided, with some trepidation, to develop an introductory literature course in 20th-century war literature, concentrating on WWI and Vietnam, and using this novel. The narrative style and chronology are difficult; I feared students would lose patience with it. But I've now used it in four classes and it has been, hands down, the favorite of my students. It has been especially effective in showing them that the "Vietnam War" for us was the "American War" for our "enemy," and that not only Americans suffered and died there. To the extent that most students coming out of high school know anything at all about the Vietnam War, they know it from an American point of view only; Kien blows them out of that closed viewpoint into an awareness of the tragedy Vietnam suffered. Getting caught up in the labyrinth of his memories makes him a real presence; in fact, one of my students commented that she kept forgetting he was Vietnamese, which is I suppose one way of saying that Bao Ninh has caught something universal in his portrayal of that destroyed young man. This is a novel about which I can say, with no reservation, that I love it, even though it is painful to read. It deserves to be as widely known as "All Quiet on the Western Front"; it is an even better novel.

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I read this book not quite knowing what to expect, other than the fact that my math teacher recommended it to me. After reading through the first few pages, I could tell it would be a great novel. It is,in fact, the best war novel I have ever read. Kien's (the main character) narrative kept me thoroughly engrossed. His description of not only what he saw, but also what he felt, gave me the same feelings he had, putting me right there in the action. The best thing we can learn from his experinces is that, in war there are no winners. When I described some of Kien's experiences to my Vietnamese girlfriend, she suggested I loan the book to her father who was a colonel and doctor with the South Vietnamese military. He just started reading it yesterday and is already raving about it. I would recommend this book to anyone, even if they have no interest in the Vietnam war.

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The Best War Novel of the 20th Century To fully enumerate the qualities of this book would be impossible here. As far as Vietnam literature is concerned, this book out-classes all other works in the field. As far as all war literature is concerned, only "All's Quiet on the Western Front" can even compare. Bao Ninh has produced a hauntingly beautiful eulogy to innocence lost in the maelstrom of war. Youth, love and art are all tenderly portrayed in the hard light of that ultimate metaphor for life, war. Supporting the book's incomparable handling of its subject is the author's superb prose. The book is written in a poetic, yet terse, style that is a model of economy. Every line of this relatively short novel is laden with aesthetic beauty and spiritual depth. The book abounds with insights about Vietnam as well as about the human spirit. It is a reading experience not to be missed.