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The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam Paperback – April 1, 1996


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (April 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573225436
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573225434
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.1 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #35,169 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Kien, the protagonist of this rambling and sometimes nearly incoherent but emotionally gripping account of the Vietnam war, is a 10-year veteran whose experiences bear a striking similarity to those of the author, a Hanoi writer who fought with the Glorious 27th Youth Brigade. The novel opens just after the war, with Kien working in a unit that recovers soldiers' corpses. Revisiting the sites of battles raises emotional ghosts for him, "a parade of horrific memories" that threatens his sanity, and he finds that writing about those years is the only way to purge them. Juxtaposing battle scenes with dreams and childhood remembrances as well as events in Kien's postwar life, the book builds to a climax of brutality. A trip to the front with Kien's childhood sweetheart ends with her noble act of sacrifice, and it becomes clear to the reader that, in Vietnam, purity and innocence exist only to be besmirched. Covering some of the same physical and thematic terrain as Novel Without a Name (see above), The Sorrow of War is often as chaotic in construction as the events it describes. In fact, it is untidy and uncontrolled, like the battlefield it conveys. The point of view slips willy-nilly from the third person to the first, without any clear semblance of organization. The inclusion of a deaf mute who falls for Kien, and acts for a while as a witness to his life, seems gratuitous. The faults of this book are also its strengths, however. Its raggedness aptly evokes the narrator's feverish view of a dangerous and unpredictable world. And its language possesses a ferocity of expression that strikes the reader with all the subtlety of a gut-punch. Polishing this rough jewel would, strangely, make it less precious.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

These two novelists, both of whom fought for North Vietnam, offer American readers a startlingly different perspective on the war.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Some scenes in the book may seem a bit too unrealistic at times.
Amazon Customer
The sorrows of war deal with the horrors of war and lose of love and what it can do to your mind and spirit.
M. P. Wills
This book shows the Vietnam War from the point of view of a North Vietnamese soldier.
BobbyC

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 54 people found the following review helpful By John J. De Bellis on September 28, 2005
Format: Paperback
To say nothing else, this is an interesting book. From a humanitarian standpoint, it is on par with Frank Elkin's diary, "The Heart of a Man," that his widow published after his A-4 was shot down off Oriskany in 1966. That novel is the only other work I have read that compares in what it may accomplish for the reader from an emotional understanding of the immense toll of the Vietnam War.

Yet, The Sorrow of War is different. First published in 1991, the book was a best seller in Vietnam - even though the communist party banned it. In reading the novel, the reason eventually becomes subtly obvious as the glorious struggle is painted in more realistic colors.

The author, Bao Ninh, was born in Hanoi in 1952, and he was one of only ten survivors of the 27th Youth Brigade during the conflict. In 1994, his work received the Independent Foreign fiction award. His fictional story unfolds in the Central Highlands where his main character, Kien, after years at war, is working in a Missing In Action Remains-Gathering Team. After that opening, there are no chapters, there is no coherent timeline, and there is no reference to much of anything but the simplest of human emotions.

At first, The Sorrow of War is strangely un-engaging. Honestly, I considered putting the book down several times early on in my reading. However, Bao Ninh does have something worth saying that is not explicitly spelled out in any of the pages as we aimlessly follow Kien in his memory of the war.

This book is not an easy read. The timeline shifts and changes without warning, and it is up to the reader to get into the head of a man who is severely damaged by the war and its apparent total destruction of his life. But, it is worth the effort.
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81 of 89 people found the following review helpful By edward j. santella on March 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
When visiting Vietnam last year, a man stopped me outside the war rememberance museum in Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon. He carried a shrink wrapped stack of books three feet high and tried to sell me a knock-off copy of "The Sorrow of War". When I told him I'd read it, he broke into a bright smile. He then offered to sell me Greene's "The Quiet American". When I told him I'd read that too, his eyes sparkled, his smile stretched and he put his arm around my shoulders. He took me to meet his friends. He said something in Vietnamese to them. All of a sudden I felt like I was a rediscovered lost relative.
"The Sorrow of War" is a book that's not so much read as experienced. There is no escaping the intensity and naked reality presented. The author is a survivor of the American War who fought in the North Vietnamese Army, but Bao Ninh is kind to neither the North Vietnamese Army nor the Americans and its allies. There's no romanticism in this novel, only honesty.
Originally banned by the Communist government, the book proved so popular that the government reconsidered and lifted the ban. It's now a national treasure.
In my next life, when I'm a teacher, I will assign this to my class to be read back-to-back with Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried". These books could stop a war.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By M. P. Wills on February 3, 2003
Format: Paperback
I first purchased this book in Vietnam in 1990. In the past 12 years I have purchased well over a hundred more copies just to give away to other Vietnam Vets. It seems that Mr. Bao Ninh and I once fought each other on the battlefield, I contacted him in Hanoi in 1993 and praised him for his great work and his life's story. This book starts off after the fall of Saigon, a former North Vietnamese soldier searches the jungle for fallen comrades with a MIA team. As he searches and passes familiar places of long ago , he drifts back to the war the beautiful girl he loved. The sorrows of war deal with the horrors of war and lose of love and what it can do to your mind and spirit. In the words of Mr. Bao Ninh "Losses can be made good, damage can be repaired and wounds will heal in time. But the psychological scars of war will remain forever"
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
The media has made sure that all of us are aware of the Vietnam conflict. Readers and movie goers the world over are now familiar with America's suffering in Vietnam and the problems American veterans have endured as they attempted to adjust to civilian life.
Although all life is irreplacible, the fact remains that the United States lost fewer than a million men in the Vietnam conflict and their social institutions and infrastructure remained relatively intact. The Vietnamese, however, lost two million men and their culture, society, landscape and tradition were literally obliterated. Despite this destruction, their side of this horrendous story has seldom been told. Worse yet, when it is told, they are often portrayed in the most unattractive of all light. Until only a few years ago, the Vietnamese were portrayed by the media as a faceless people with no identity; entities not worth caring about. The turning point came with the publication, in Dutch, of Duong Thu Huong's Blind Paradise in 1994. This landmark book was followed by Bao Ninh's The Sorrow of War.
War novels deal, superficially, with war. But underneath all the blood and horror and carnage lie far deeper social and human issues. The best novels of war, such as Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front and Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, as well as Bao Ninh's The Sorrow of War, also deal with the makeup and morality of a culture or a society gone wrong. The protagonist of these books, whether real or fictional, often endures a harrowing personal struggle through both a public and private hell and usually undergoes some sort of redemption, even if that redemption results in death.
Born in 1952, Bao Ninh served in the Glorious 27th Youth Brigade during the Vietnam conflict.
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