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A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain: Stories Paperback – May 10, 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Reprint edition (May 10, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802137989
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802137982
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #84,602 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The Vietnam War continues to play itself out in fiction, autobiography, and history books, but no American author has captured the experiences of the Vietnamese themselves--and caught their voices--more tellingly than Robert Olen Butler, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain. The 15 stories collected here, all written in the first person, blend Vietnamese folklore, the terrible, lingering memories of war, American pop culture and family drama. Butler's literary ventriloquism, as he mines the experiences of a people with a great literary tradition of their own, is uncanny; but his talents as a writer of universal truths is what makes this a collection for the ages. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Butler's 15 stories, set in the Vietnamese enclaves of suburban New Orleans, capture the voices of people who have lost their homeland and are trying to adapt to an alien culture. Named by PW as one of the best books of 1992.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

The characters are fascinating.
Just My Op
The writing is poetic, and the stories capture the foibles and strengths of being human.
Carolyn
This is on my short list of best collections of short stories I have ever read.
David Hutton

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Quy V. Nguyen on September 22, 2004
Format: Paperback
I was browsing through Pulitzer Prize winning books when I came upon this book. Admittedly, being a Vietnamese immigrant, I was very skeptical that a white man can ever capture the true experiences of the hardships of coming to America. I was quickly stunned at how some of the stories jumped right out of the pages and poured back into the back of my memories. It didn't seem like I was reading a fictional account of Vietnamese assimilation; it was more than that, it was as if I was reading into the history of my time in America. Most notably of all the stories in the collection is the story of the American soldier trying furiously to bring his Vietnamese wife and daughter to America. As you read through his letters and realize his intentions, you can't help but feel frustrated for this man. It is no surprise that this book was a Pulitzer winner. It is that good.
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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 9, 1999
Format: Paperback
When I first learned that Butler was a Caucasian man living in Louisiana, I was a little reticent about reading the book. As a Chinese immigrant, I have read numerous accounts of the "Asian experience" from the non-Asian perspective. Often times, the writers oversimplify their subjects' feelings and don't have a good sense of the material.
Nothing could be further from the truth about Butler's book. After I read it, I bought numerous copies and sent them to my friends. Butler has an acute understanding of the Vietnamese experience, and in particular, the immigrant experience in the US. How did he know these feelings? How did he get such a good grasp of the culture?
It is a extremely moving book. Several times I had to put the book down because I was so choked up. Butler is an incredible writer. Each chapter is a self-contained short story. Sometimes told from the perspective of a woman, other times a man. In either case, Butler's keen awareness of Vietnamese culture is apparent from the sensitivity of his stories.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Peggy Vincent on September 18, 2003
Format: Paperback
In 1993, this book won the Pulitzer - and somehow I'd never heard of it till recently. With great sensitivity, Robert Olen Butler introduces us to the colorful lives of Vietnamese immigrants in Louisiana. This collection of inter-related short stories are told in many different voices: housewives, pregnant woman, a lonely businessman - and we grow to care about each one as a unique individual. Butler's writing in the voice of people of another culture feels so authentic because he served with army intelligence in Vietnam in 1971 and worked as an interpreter to Saigon's mayor.
Terrific collection.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 7, 1998
Format: Paperback
Even if I had not grown up in Lake Charles, LA and attended the university there, where Mr. Butler teaches, I would have loved this book. Funny thing is, I discovered it quite by accident in a public library in San Francisco! The book is about Vietnamese people in and around Lake Charles. The fact that we have this place in common, not only "brought the stories home" for me, but makes me very proud and happy that a writer of such high caliber so masterfully captured the region's unique essence and that of the Asian immigrant's experience there. My own experience in Lake Charles was very much that of the Asian in this race-conscious Southern state. Each story, however, was not so much about discrimination or racial differences as about personal growth and assimilation. Butler's characters demonstrate that there is no ONE Asian personality just like there is no ONE personality for any other race. The people are believable, the place is certainly real, and the author has done a wonderful job of writing. Thank you, Mr. Butler.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By David Hutton on December 15, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is on my short list of best collections of short stories I have ever read. When I heard it won the Pulitzer it gave me hope for the prizes, unlike some other selections. These stories are haunting, melancholy and beautiful. Depressing, too, as some naysayers have complained, which does seem to limit their appeal to some. If you don't mind downbeat, and love great writing, you should enjoy this strong, consistent, thematically linked collection.
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46 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Thuan Do on November 25, 1999
Format: Paperback
I am a Vietnamese and I have been shocked when reading this book. The author described the Vietnamese characters so gloomily. They are very strange. I have never met someone similar to one of them in my whole life, and I am 54 years old. I see that the author has too much imagination about Vietnamese people. He put the traits of the characters in William Faulkner's books into the Vietnamese characters in his book. (By the way, I don't like Faulkner's writings). It looks like they are backward kinds of people, who are incoherent in their thinking, crazy in their behaviors, superstitious in their beliefs, and sad in their moods. I wish these kinds of books would not appear in the world's literature. Those books make the stereotype about Vietnamese people in the mind of Americans becomes stronger. It's not surprising that the book got the Pulitzer prize: because the judges for the prize were not Vietnamese. If they were, the book would not have gotten the prize.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Winston Barclay on September 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
Robert Olen Butler was ordered to Vietnam, like several hundred thousand young Americans of his generation. But while he was no stranger to the visceral terrors of that politically, tactically and morally awkward war, Vietnamese culture was not opaque, puzzling and frustrating to him, as it was to most American soldiers. Because of his facility with language, Butler was first assigned to master the complexly musical Vietnamese language, so that he could serve as a translator-liaison between the American military and their South Vietnamese counterparts. Once in Vietnam, Butler used his fluency for a more humane pursuits: When off-duty he went into the streets in civilian garb, conversing with common people in doorways, homes and businesses -- a crucial tutorial in their character, attitudes, history and culture. Butler says that this uncommon access compelled him to "fall in love" with the Vietnamese people and their ancient culture, and that love shines in the remarkable set of stories compiled in "A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain." The unifying aspect of these touching stories, which captured the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, is that each is told in the gentle voice of a Vietnamese dislocated by war and resettled in southern Louisiana, The Vietnam War and its aftermath are addressed in dozens of books, but this compilation offers a unique and revealing perspective on Vietnam for a country still haunted by that doomed, ambiguous war. Poetic without being precious, sentimental without being maudlin, sensitive but far from enervated, these stories are a must-read landmark of literary humanity.
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