- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (April 1, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1573225436
- ISBN-13: 978-1573225434
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (129 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,630 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam Paperback – April 1, 1996
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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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Top customer reviews
I am loathe to provide spoilers, and for literary works, style is as much a part of the content as plot, so I suppose this is a spoiler of sorts: The plot is not presented in a linear way, but dislocates time, which is common in many Vietnam War novels. I imagine a masters or doctoral thesis can be performed on Vietnam War novels and the dislocation of time as a stylistic device. For this novel, however, it is an absolute necessity stylistically to produce the effect the novel builds to near the end, so stick with it if you have trouble with that approach to plot.
That being said, this was easily the most depressing book I have ever read. Bao Ninh spares nothing when describing the things he saw and experienced in combat and the heart wrenching pain of loss in his post-war life. Not for the faint of heart.
The translation is quite good as well, except a few typos and (in the Kindle edition) missing diacritical marks on Vietnamese names. It'd be nice as well if there were the translator explained that, in Vietnamese, people address each other using "uncle," "aunt," "little brother," "grandfather," etc, in order to show relative status, NOT because they are related--this confused me at first.
My favorite quotes:
"...hard to remember a time when his whole personality and character had been in tact, a time before the cruelty and the destruction of war had warped his soul. A time when he had been deeply in love, passionate aching with desire, hilariously frivolous and lighthearted...when he too was worthy of being a lover and in love...but war was a world with no home, no roof, no comforts. A miserable journey of endless drifting... War was also a world without romance. He couldn't avoid the drain on his soul, the ruin his young men were escaping from as they set about squeezing the last remaining drops of love from their nightly adventures."
Most recent customer reviews
Also, in Vietnam, the war is called the American War.