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This review is from: Love Like Hate: A Novel (Paperback)
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.