8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I was going to write that this book is a pleasure to read, but given its grim and often painful content, that might be like admitting that I'm a sadist. Dinh's prose itself, though, is a pleasure indeed--it's often like poetry instead, and it makes me want to read his poetry. The content is often poetic too, with finely observed details of scene and character, and again, with perfectly chosen and revealing words to describe them.
Dinh may or may not reveal much about Vietnamese people and culture; those looking for touristic, voyeuristic exotica could well find some here. They might also decide that Vietnamese men really know how to abuse Vietnamese women. However, if they do think they're learning anything about Vietnamese people in general, I hope they stop and ask themselves--was Poe an accurate representative and chronicler of his country's society? Was William Faulkner, or Flannery O'Connor, or Michel Houellebecq, or any other writer with an idiosyncratically dark vision?
This story careens like a drunken camera from character to character, tracing the lines of the always tenuous relations between them. We watch, again and again, the possibility of love and then the tragedies brought about by its immolation. For me, what causes the promise of love to go down in flames repeatedly is how little the characters understand about how their objects of attraction in turn regard them. In a population repeatedly bulldozed like garbage by larger forces, the people--Dinh's people, at least--end up trashing each other. The end result for this reader is a horribly beautiful reminder of what we deny ourselves, and of what we waste, when we fail to appreciate as best we can two things: why other people are who they are, and why they want what they want.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2011
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
This is an amazingly well written novel. The language is so well edited that there's isn't a single unnecessary word. It make Hemingway seem a bit too wordy. Dashiell Hammett seem prosy. It's darkly hilarious and Linh Dinh is terribly cruel to his characters. This book is a mirror into Vietman from the 1950s to the near present day, plus the ironic American experience in contrast. This book reminds me of One Hundred Years of Solitude, but is far funnier and a hell of a lot shorter.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2012
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This X rated at times sexually radical (the finer points of bestiality anyone?)novel finds and makes its bulls-eyes on exposing and explicating common perceptions versus reality in a fast moving , belly laugh witty , post modernist style (one scene where the narrator enters the narrative the author managed the most seamless and comical use I have encountered of that device ) struck me with so many searing , lasting and revealing images of American and Vietnamese history, and ethical and social consciousness that I consider this by far the most effective novel in terms of didactic intent that I have read for some time - its poetical and heuristic style makes the prose enduring on the memory - highly recommended for anyone without discomfort at sexually explicit and suggestive prose (which at times borders on making the novel an albeit stylistically beautiful bordello) . Once through the first few chapters and you have meshed with the conversational English , you wont put it down (or turn it off...I read the flawless kindle edition as my first encounter with an "e-book" and now am an e book addict).
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 3, 2011
Linh Dinh paints a picture of a country that is awkwardly and chaotically sprinting towards happiness. Dinh, who was born in Vietnam and moved to the United States at the age of 12 in 1975, has already made a career for himself as a poet. He has published five books of poems and two books of short stories, and is already considered a master in his field, having been anthologized in three Best American Poetry editions in the last decade. One of his short story collections, Blood and Soap, was picked by The Village Voice as the best book of 2004. Love Like Hate is his first novel, and a pleasure to read - the voice, words, and characters are as carefully crafted as a work poem or a short story.
The overall structure of the novel reads like a closely intertwined story cycle. Each chapter has a title, and they often feel as if they could stand on their own. The chapters, like short stories, often close with a tight allegory or whimsically drawn-out metaphor. The allegories are especially interesting - one female character's meditation on the necessity of beauty blossoms into a tale of two women who didn't develop, and the consequences of one's acceptance of that fact and the other's quest for exquisiteness that grew into an addiction.
He opens with a short history of Vietnam since the late 1970's, but swiftly drops us into the plot shortly thereafter. Though most of the action takes place in and around Saigon, the reader sometimes travels with the characters back in time to their hometowns or forward to the U.S. Gratefully, Dinh is our ambassador who guides us through the character's lives as well as the customs, histories and locations. This result is the effect of learning while reading, though not in a pedantic way. Dinh add rich details about things which would be mundane to the Vietnamese, but absolutely fascinating to an outsider. For example:
He also noticed something he hadn't asked for: a jar of fermented shrimp paste. Fermented shrimp paste is used as a dip for boiled pork. Purplish gray, it tastes great - once you get the hang of it - but it smells like garbage. Fermented seafood is inevitable in a tropical country with a long coastline. The ability to eat fermented seafood separates the real Vietnamese from the fake Vietnamese.
The main character, Kim Lan, is a women who survives the Vietnam war and then opens up a sidewalk cafe that flourishes into the late `90's. It would be a mistake to say that she dominates the book. Dinh shows his characters through their relationships to each other, which makes the title of the book feel appropriate long before the reason is revealed.
It's not always easy to relate the characters: sometimes their goals seem a little shallow. Kim Lan's dream is to get her daughter married to a Vietnamese ex-pat, and she spends a considerable amount of effort to make her as desirable and American as possible. She's cruel to her servants, and can't trust them, a fact that allows her lazy, whoring son to steal money from her and blame it on the help.
Yet Dinh makes all his characters shine. As the opening story unfolds, a Vietnamese transplant to Philadelphia offers a seemingly absurd (and naively hilarious) suggestion regarding her husband's career, and then an incredible insight into the inherent despair of American culture. The honesty regarding these characters makes them far more realistic, and ultimately more likeable. At points the plot twists are, quite literally, jaw-dropping, and healthy sense of hope for the characters is thoroughly engaged, as well as a greater sense of respect for the day-to-day life struggles of Vietnam. On many levels, it is a book that is easy to appreciate, and it is easy to feel wiser for having read it.
0 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 15, 2011
I'm going to add a bit up here to talk about how great the writing is in this book . Linh writes with a great sense of humor . This book isn't exactly a comedy, but its a very fun read . Life isn't all about being depressed all the time anyway . Anyway Linh has fun with this book, and you'll have fun reading it .
Below is my original review, in which I talk about how the book provides a often overlooked viewpoint( the one of the actual people the war was about ) of the Vietnam war and its aftermath.
When us Americans talk about Vietnam its more or less just some example. In just about every Vietnam movie , the people of the country are props in some tale about 'good ole boys from middle America who went and saw something messed up in some jungle somewhere ". This book isn't that . While anti-war folks and war hawks like to treat the Vietnamese almost as if they all had one personality , the anti war side saying " The Vietnamese people were noble freedom fighters who resisted American imperialism " with the war hawks calming " They were just too weak/ignorant to embrace democracy "-(even though the hawks can bring up some great points such as the mass numbers of Vietnamese who immigrated to the US to flee Communism) .
Linh is able to seriously humanize the Vietnamese , they, like us have very diverse views and motivations . This is in sharp contrast to all the so called leftist who assumed (almost always without every visiting a communist nation)Communism was some type of peoples revolution against the evils of capitalism . Howard Zinn's( From a Peoples History of the United States) story about an American Chinese GI who thought of joining the Vietcong since they would of "accepted him" sounds utterly retarded once you understand the standing of Chinese people in Vietnam . Although Howard Zinn was silly enough to state the only people to flee Communism were those who "did not want want to live under Communist rule" , Linh shatters this notion( seriously, if your one of those leftist who uses Vietnam as an example when ever explaining how evil America is, buy this book) .
My only warning is this is a mature book( in both language and content . You have to think like an adult to understand whats going on here . But personally I read this book in one 4-5 hour session , this is some great writing and as long as your not someone who thinks they know more about Linh's home then Linh you will enjoy this read .