First unofficially published in Vietnamese as Thân phận của tình yêu by Hội nhà văn in 1990. English language translation by Phan Thanh Hao and Frank Palmos published in the UK by Secker and Warburg in 1994.
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How I got this book:
Swapped for in the book exchange at Camping Alvor, Portugal
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Kien’s job is to search the Jungle of Screaming Souls for corpses. He knows the area well – this was where, in the dry season of 1969, his battalion was obliterated by American napalm and helicopter gunfire. Kien was one of only ten survivors. This book is his attempt to understand the eleven years of his life he gave to a senseless war. Based on true experiences of Bao Ninh and banned by the communist party, this novel is revered as the ‘All Quiet on the Western Front for our era’.
This novel of the Vietnam War is interesting for its graphic depictions of the war as it really was for the North Vietnamese soldiers, a civil war between North and South with the Americans an anonymous mass threatening from a distance but rarely the focus. Ninh's writing leaps around in time without any attempt to coherently link events for the reader which gives a fantastic insight into the mind of a soldier destroyed by war, but also makes this a difficult book to understand. Perhaps that is its point. The love story between Kien and Phuong, both little more than children at the war's outbreak, is movingly tender when set against so much violence and their loss of innocence could just as well apply to the whole country that was ripped apart by over a decade of conflict.
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Books by Bao Ninh / War fiction / Books from Vietnam