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The Stars, The Earth, The River: Short Stories by Le Minh Khue (Voices from Vietnam) Paperback – April 1, 1997

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The Stars, The Earth, The River: Short Stories by Le Minh Khue (Voices from Vietnam) + American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity + Home before Morning: The Story of an Army Nurse in Vietnam
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Editorial Reviews Review

This collection of 14 stories--each a harrowing sketch of the Vietnam War and its aftermath-- offers American readers a glimpse offamiliar territory, but from an unfamiliar perspective. Often writing from a young woman's point of view, Le Minh Khue, a war veteran who served in the Youth Volunteers Brigade, uses simple, understated prose to describe numbing horrors:

"There were three of us. Three girls. We lived in a cavern at the foot of a strategic hill ... Our job was to sit there. Whenever a bomb exploded, we had to run up, figure out how much earth was needed to fill the hold, count the unexploded bombs, and, if necessary, detonate them. They called us the Ground Reconnaissance Team. That title inspired in us a passion to do heroic deeds and therefore our work was not that simple." So begins the first story, "Distant Stars."

Born in 1949, Le Minh Khue was no stranger to the vagaries of Land Reform politics and war. Colored by her stint as a war correspondent in Vietnam, Khue's level gaze lingers over the shambles of a war-torn country and its reconstruction to examine the soul of a people whose culture has all but been destroyed.

The Stars, the Earth, the River contains an excellent introduction by the translators, grounding the stories in Le Minh Khue's personal history; the narrator of "A Day on the Road" speaks from having witnessedthe carnage of war. You simultaneously feel the rage of the author and the narrator when Khue disparagingly notes that the conversations around her center on luxuries, motor scooters, and business deals. Of what use, these stories ask, is such suffering? How can a culture honor the losses of war?


"The author is revealed as a fine, spare stylist with a flaire for satire." -- New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

  • Series: Voices from Vietnam
  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Curbstone Books; 1 edition (April 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1880684470
  • ISBN-13: 978-1880684474
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #257,679 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By "kathrynlively" on November 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
Curbstone Press, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing literature reflecting social issues (with strong emphasis on foreign cultures), has seen fit to translate a collection of stories that introduces to us another view of life in Vietnam, life as experienced from the nameless thousands who endured the war many of us knew only from nightly news reports.
The Stars, The Earth, The River is a compilation of fourteen stories written by Vietnamese journalist-turned-editor Le Minh Khue, and is a highly recommeded read for anyone interested in Oriental life and literature.
In these stories, Vietnam is a place where a woman turning forty is considered old and a person with only a thousand American dollars in his/her pocket is called a "millionaire." Khue's stories convey many themes with a touch of black humor: in "Scenes from an Alley," greed plays a major factor in the life of a married couple who learn of a woman receiving a grand payoff from an American when he accidentally kills the woman's daughter, then try to place their aging father in the American's path, hoping lightning will strike twice. "The Almighty Dollar" is a wonderfully satirical tale of a large dysfunctional family worthy of "The Ricki Lake Show." Competition for custody of a mentally disabled brother is triggered by love...of money.
"Tony D" mystifies as the alleged "ghost" of a dead American soldier comes to haunt the old man who intends to sell his bones for profit, and "A Small Tragedy" presents forbidden love at its most disturbing. The best story of the fourteen, however, would have to be Khue's first, "The Distant Stars," written when Khue was only nineteen.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Cord on January 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
Le Minh Khue writes: "To understand my stories, you need to understand the history of revolution, war and struggle that my country has gone through and out of which those stories grew."
Khue definitely helps her readers to understand.
Le Minh Khue is an extraordinary woman who uses her personal experiences to enrich her stories. When she was very young, she lost her parents in the Land Reforms of the early fifties and in 1965, at age 16 she lied about her age so that she could join the People's Army. We get a first hand account of how it was to grow up in Vietnam prior to, during, and after the war. Khue details the influences of Western culture on the youth of Vietnam and shatters the sterotypes that others may have of the Vietnamese way of life.
Most of Khue's stories are very dark. In "Tony D", a story about the grief that an American soldier's skeletal remains bring to an old man and his son, the son forces his father to cut off his finger to prove that he is not lying. In other stories, the characters are driven to suicide, some are obsessed with the material world and would do anything for the "Almighty Dollar", and a great deal of the male characters are unfaithful, have overly cynical views on life, or knife their brother's pregnant wife in the stomach.
As Wayne Karlin (editor) says, "Le Minh Khue the writer continues to perform the task of Le Minh Khue the sapper: searching out and identifying the bombs that lay buried along the Trail along which we must move, bringing them out of the earth and sometimes identifying them, and sometimes defusing them, and sometimes exploding them, and sometimes smoothing over the scars they leave in the earth. She never lets us forget what is buried and where; in doing so, she gently suggests the directions we must continue to travel."
I greatly enjoyed The Stars, The Earth, The River, and find Le Minh Khue to be a very compelling and enjoyable writer.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By S. Annand on June 26, 2004
Format: Paperback
The author can write a good story, but very often this devolves into the genre of Commie Literature. This whole thing about "revolution," "liberation," etc., etc., gets real tiresome.
As a former sapper and journalist during the Second Indochina War (using the American History terminology), I found her stories quite interesting. The fact that she was patriotic is nothing to sneer at. She, like women in too many wars, is usually looked down on as a lesbian or slut. This no matter that she is taking the same chances as the men and shows more guts than most men.
This book is hard to describe. In "The Blue Sky" she, as a journalist, tries to tell the truth but is put down by her male editor. In "A Very Late Afternoon" and "Rain" she also shows the corruption rampant in Vietnam and how those who travel to the West can do quite well. She also describes the grinding poverty of her country and how people become old before their time. Thanks to communist liberation (my view), the "working class" have an almost feral existence while the elites continue to skate.
I think her longer story "A Small Tragedy" speaks on a number of levels, most I can't understand. The former mandarin turned communist--naturally after showing his "credentials" by abandoning his first wife to the crowds--is shown to be heartless and corrupt. This passes on to his daughter, who is always unhappy. In a version of the Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex, she meets her perfect groom (described as French although he is a Vietnamese refugee with a French passport), she only finds out too late who he really is. This was a fascinating story put in a Vietnamese perspective.
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