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The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam
     

The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam

4.5 13
by Bao Ninh, Phan T. Hao (Translator), Frank Palmos (Translator)
 

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The daring and controversial novel that took the world by storm-- a story of politics, selfhood, survival, and war.

Bao Ninh, a former North Vietnamese soldier, provides a strikingly honest look at how the Vietnam War forever changed his life, his country, and the people who live there. Originaly published against government wishes in Vietnam because of its

Overview

The daring and controversial novel that took the world by storm-- a story of politics, selfhood, survival, and war.

Bao Ninh, a former North Vietnamese soldier, provides a strikingly honest look at how the Vietnam War forever changed his life, his country, and the people who live there. Originaly published against government wishes in Vietnam because of its nonheroic, non-ideological tone, The Sorrow of War has won worldwide acclaim and become an international bestseller.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The first critical portrayal of life in the North Vietnamese army ever to appear in Vietnam . . . The censors were evidently moved by the book's unflinching sincerity and Ninh's literary gifts."
Time

"Vaults over all the American fiction that came out of the Vietnam War to take its place alongside the greatest war novel of the century, All Quiet on the Western Front. And this is to understate its qualities, for, unlike All Quiet, it is a novel about much more than war. A book about writing, about lost youth, it is also a beautiful, agonizing love story."
The Independent

"Dramatic . . . Chronicle[s] the wrecked lives of North Vietnamese soldiers who enter the war with blazing idealism, only to sink deeper into disillusionment and pessimism as everything they know falls apart around them . . . Will force American readers to acknowledge how little they still understand of the long war that left such a legacy of grief and guilt in their own country."
The Washington Post

"Powerful . . . Make[s] North Vietnamese soldiers human, wrenched by the same fear and pain as young Americans. A remarkable emotional intensity builds as the author mixes harrowing flashback scenes from the war with images from his pastoral youth, from his heartbreaking homecoming after a decade away, and finally from the nightmare calamity that ties everything else together and gives the book its tragic power . . . Finally put[s] an acceptable human face on a group of people long without one. You will never think of North Vietnam and its people the same way again."
The Philadelphia Inquirer

"An unputdownable novel. It should win the Pulitzer Prize."
The Guardian

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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. (Feb.)
Library Journal
These two novelists, both of whom fought for North Vietnam, offer American readers a startlingly different perspective on the war. (LJ 1/95)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781573225434
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/28/1996
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
240
Sales rank:
85,741
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.51(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Related Subjects

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"The first critical portrayal of life in the North Vietnamese army ever to appear in Vietnam . . . The censors were evidently moved by the book's unflinching sincerity and Ninh's literary gifts."
Time

"Vaults over all the American fiction that came out of the Vietnam War to take its place alongside the greatest war novel of the century, All Quiet on the Western Front. And this is to understate its qualities, for, unlike All Quiet, it is a novel about much more than war. A book about writing, about lost youth, it is also a beautiful, agonizing love story."
The Independent

"Dramatic . . . Chronicle[s] the wrecked lives of North Vietnamese soldiers who enter the war with blazing idealism, only to sink deeper into disillusionment and pessimism as everything they know falls apart around them . . . Will force American readers to acknowledge how little they still understand of the long war that left such a legacy of grief and guilt in their own country."
The Washington Post

"Powerful . . . Make[s] North Vietnamese soldiers human, wrenched by the same fear and pain as young Americans. A remarkable emotional intensity builds as the author mixes harrowing flashback scenes from the war with images from his pastoral youth, from his heartbreaking homecoming after a decade away, and finally from the nightmare calamity that ties everything else together and gives the book its tragic power . . . Finally put[s] an acceptable human face on a group of people long without one. You will never think of North Vietnam and its people the same way again."
The Philadelphia Inquirer

"An unputdownable novel. It should win the Pulitzer Prize."
The Guardian

Meet the Author

Bao Ninh was born in Hanoi in 1952. During the Vietnam War he served with the Glorious 27th Youth Brigade. Of the five hundred who went to war with the brigade in 1969, he is one of the ten who survived. A huge bestseller in Vietnam, The Sorrow of War won The Independent Foreign Fiction Award for 1994. It is Bao Ninh's first novel.

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The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Throughout the war in Viet Nam, American soldiers were taught, subtly if not overtly, that their enemy was something less than human. A 'gook,' a 'slant'; the names established a clear 'us' and 'them,' because it's not easy to fight an enemy who is not 'other.' 'The Sorrow of War' demonstrates the magnitude of this lie. The author walks us through the life of an NVA soldier--his duties, mundane and exciting; his emotions; attitudes toward his work, his causes, his family and, of course, his enemy. In many ways, it could have been written by a US soldier--except for the local feel of it, the knowledge that the author's protagonist fights on the land where he lives. The language is poetic, the images sharp, the viewpoint full of wisdom, experience and pain. This is a must-read piece of literature for anyone who is trying to understand the Viet Nam war, or war in general, for that matter, in depth. Susan O'Neill, author and Viet Nam veteran
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book tells the truths of war. It will make you stay up all night to finish it- you won't be able to put it down. It will have you crying and on the edge of your seat on every page. This book was extremely touching and educational!!!
davedavenport More than 1 year ago
The book opens with a vivid and unfolding description of a jungle of "screaming souls" that wonderfully guides the reader into a sense of foreboding horror, pain, and suffering. The book is written in a non-linear format so it is sometimes hard to tell the chronology of the events but is great for developing the characters and emotions and struggles and the effects both physically and mentally of the war in Vietnam. Death and horror canvas the story from beginning to end. War brings Chaos and absence of all that is wholesome is the underlying theme. The mark left on the land and the people by such horrible war is conveyed through descriptive imagery. In one battle Kien writes that, "The diamond-shaped grass clearing was piled high with bodies killed by helicopter gunships. Broken bodies, bodies blown apart, bodies vaporized. No jungle grew again in this clearing. No grass. No plants" (Ninh 5). Kien goes on to describe the indoctrination of the North Vietnamese nationalistic and communist ideals and movement that we have already learned was driven into the people from the top to the bottom of local cadres. Kien goes on to say about his battalion commander in this passage to share the intensity and perverseness of his experiences. "Better to die than to surrender, my brothers! Better to die!' the battalion commander yelled insanely; waving his pistol in front of Kien he blew his own brains out through his ear. Kien screamed soundlessly at the sight" (Ninh 5). The horror and devastation is seared into his brain and permeates everything his five senses address, another brilliant way the author brings the reader into understanding the extent and relation of the sorrow caused by war. The novel jumps back and forth chronologically, but another recurring aspect of kien's hold on some form of emotion are in the relationship he has or had with his childhood sweetheart, Phuong. Phuong was the prettiest most valued girl in the province by the time she reached maturity. She possessed all the ideals and characteristics the Vietnamese sought after in their women but Kien never pursued her. Phuong, in her defense, was always there for him and waited for him to pursue her, but Kien, even before war affects him, lacks basic human emotion and never realizes what he has in her. As the story progresses, more light is shed on Kien's life growing up. His mother died and he never really got to know her and his father, out of grief over his mother was warped into a strange old man who sat in his attic and painted gruesome satirical paintings all day, barely ever speaking a word to his own son, much less leaving the attic. Robbed of childhood, innocence, and feelings in general, Kien is a morose, mostly drunk, empty shell of a man. Even at a late night meeting near a lake where Phuong basically tells Kien she wants him and they both know they should be together, he doesn't have the capacity to commit nor feel and replies with excuse after excuse in the name of their 'duty' to the imminent war. Obviously an already troubled man, Kien paints a portrait that cuts to the core of human emotion. His emptiness and sadness, even for someone like him, does not detract from the suffering that affects everyone around him. One profound thing that Kien says is that, "The ones that loved the war were not the young men but the others like the politicians, middle-aged men with fat bellies and short legs. Not the ordinary people.
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Jared11 More than 1 year ago
War affects everyone, even enemies. The novel The Sorrow of War, written by Bao Nihn, gives Americans a new perspective on the Vietnam War. The Sorrow of War is about Kien, a ten year veteran who fought for the North Vietnamese Army, trying to regroup the parts of his shattered life. Kien writes the stories of his life; the war, his love with Phuong, and his untraditional childhood. Kien authors this compilation of memories in an attempt to escape to sorrows of war. The devastation to the country of Vietnam and his bleak, horrific memories of death and war make it near impossible to forget. Throughout the novel, it almost seems as if there is no plot, just a book full of war and love stories. The transitions between Kien's memories and his post-war life are rough and clunky, but the contrast makes the reader want to progress further into the novel. The odd transitions may be due to the fact that this novel is a translated novel. Despite the almost non-existent plot, the writing style of Bao Nihn is captivating and enthralling. One would think the gloomy, depressing mood of this novel would discourage a reader, but reading the individual stories of Kien gives a new perspective on people Americans scarcely thought were human. The detailed way Nihn writes creates empathy for these people. When reading this book, the reader can touch the face of heartbreak, feel the grief of death, and experience the sorrow of war.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Excellent, emotionally disturbing book. Would recommend to anyone looking for a good read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have heard said that it is time we put Vietnam behind us. That might be a tempting thought for those who find it difficult to confront so much ugliness in our history. But when we 'put history behind us' we risk not learning valuable lessons from it. Have we really learned all that would useful for us to learn from our Vietnamese experience? For us to have a better understanding of our Vietnamese experience, we need to learn what representative Vietnamese themselves have to say about themselves and about their country. We should keep in mind that for decades we have been hearing reports and views mostly only from officials and from media people who did know the language and who had limited knowledge of the culture. How many could have told us the name of a single Vietnamese book or song or film or anything? One might conclude that they did not consider that knowledge and understanding of the culture was relevant to their missions and that they could rely for insights on translators and interpreters whose competence they had no way to judge. 'The Sorrow of War' will by no means meet our need to understand more about Vietnam but it certainly should convince us that Vietnamese may have things to say that can enlighten us. The wonder is that there has not been more curiosity on our part to hear from them directly. Think of how many of our fellow citizens sacrificed their lives in the war and how many billions of dollars were spent on it. Critics could find much in this book to find fault with but the 'faults' are the major strengths of this book. At times the narration becomes bewilderingly kaleidoscopic, but this is a virtue of the book. The principle point of the book is to dramatize how the lives of the characters of almost all the characters have been forever shattered -- shattered! --by what they have endured. The way the story is told reflects the shattered mind of the narrator. The only joy that some of the characters, including the narrator, will ever henceforth know is that of revisiting cherished nmemories of the distant past before the war. Their only possible future lies in the distant past. The two main characters before the war knew that they were destined to love one another forever and they were right, but such has been the trauma they have known that they can no longer abide being together. Yes, the love has survived intact, but the presence of the other reminds each intolerable memories. The skill of the author is best exhibited in his ability to convince the reader that this outcome is easily believable. As one reads this book one may come to understand that our enemies were people not unlike oneself. If they were people like those in this book, then they were also people with whom we had much in common. History is mostly ugly but knowing that and being repelled by it could help us do better in the future. History offers this useful lesson that can help us aspire to the moral high ground: our enemies of today often become our friends of tomorrow. Isn't that fact a useul one to keep in mind when we are confronting enemies? After a conflict a day may come when we regret not having made a greater effort to have avoided the conflict in the first place.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Sorrow Of War is as controversial as it is breathtaking with its haunting portrayal of lost youth, torn optimism, tragic love and great sorrow through much of the experience of a North Vietnamese soldier (communist soldier). The novel, as with the chaotic scene of war itself, is written in a fragmented and incoherent style that denotes the turbulence of that era. Mainly a gripping war novel it is also a compelling yet painful love story of two vibrant youths who discover that they are from two different worlds, separated by their ideals, views and conflict of war. These two youths are put to extremes and they emerge from it only to have been stripped of their youth, liveliness, spirit and innocence. Kien, the protagonist of the novel, becomes a writer in the postwar days of his middle adulthood; writing to rid himself of his personal demons and as a duty to those who sacrificed their lives to save him. Kien continues to write until his dying days because he can¿t move on from the past, ¿the past without an end, a never-ending story of loyalty, friendship, brotherhood, comradeship, and humanity¿. Kien lives in sorrow for the remainder of his life, thinking only of the past and his prewar days of happiness in memories long ago and every so often, images of the horrific war. Vividly captivating and soundly unforgettable (¿The Jungle of Screaming Souls¿, the air raids, the alarm, gunshots, the sound of silence, etc.), The Sorrow of War has a poetic approach and descriptive imagery that depicts some of the most gruesome battle scenes and heartfelt story line ever imagined.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just hardly stop my tears from flowing down. It is the best book I ever saw. I hadn't ever known these facts about war, love and generally life.