I like to read about the places I’m going to before I go. If you’re like me, you’ll be overwhelmed by how many books there are on Vietnam. I think there are enough English-language books on this country to fill a small library. Is Vietnam good or bad? People have so many things to say. There have been a lot of bad things happen to this country over the last 100 years. This might be why. Tragedies are the best stories to tell. It doesn’t matter, though. There are a lot of books about Vietnam to choose from. Many of them are really good. I mean, this is really good! People like Greene, O’Brien, Caputo, Sheehan, and so on are some of the best writers in English. They have chosen to write about this interesting country in Southeast Asia.
Sometimes, it’s hard to choose, and if you’re like me and you’re on a budget, you want to choose the best book on Vietnam. This is the bad news. So, here is a list of 26 books about Vietnam and Vietnamese culture that I’ve put together. I’ve read 21 of them. The five I haven’t read are classics, so I put them on the list. Several of the books take place in the United States, but there are Vietnamese people in them. People keep adding to the list, so I’ll keep adding to it and updating my reviews as I read more of them. Some of them aren’t great. Let me tell you which ones I think you should buy, borrow, or just skip.
Also, if you’re interested in books about other countries in Asia, check out my books on Japan.
Books on Vietnam: Fiction
The Quiet American
Graham Greene (1955)
It got 5 out of 5 stars from me.
Is “insanity” the same thing as being young?
I’ve read “The Quiet American” twice already. During my 2015 trip through Vietnam I saw it for the second time. It was 20 years ago. If you read it again, you’ll be able to see more of the book’s many layers the second or third time around. The movie The Quiet American takes place in 1955, during the French-Indochina War, when a lot of people were killed. When the book is over, the narrator will be British journalist Thomas Fowler, who is cynical and lives in Vietnam with his girlfriend. As long as Alden Pyle is around, he doesn’t know what he’s missing. It turns out that Pyle is working for the CIA and that he is part of a risky plan to save Vietnam from both the communists and their old European colonizers. Surprisingly, the two start to like each other right away. It’s just that there is a little bit of a problem with that. In love: Pyle is in love with Phuong. She is Fowler’s girlfriend. At a disadvantage: Fowler isn’t as good as other people. Phuong: Pyle promises to “rescue” Phuong and bring her back to the United States. Fowler, a married man, can only say that he will live as a mistress for a few years. What will Fowler do to keep Phuong?
The Quiet American is a wonderful book. Everything in this book is a way to talk about something more important. Pyle is a picture of the United States’ arrogance and ignorance, and it’s a good one. This quote from Fowler sums up Pyle and the United States very well:
To protect him, that was my first thought. When I was younger, I didn’t think there was a bigger need to protect myself. For example, “Innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell. He wanders around the world, doing no harm. We should protect ourselves from it.” The book was so ahead of its time at the time. Greene wrote it in 1955. The American Vietnam War started in 1965. Graham could see how the U.S.’s idealism, arrogance, racism, and naivety would hurt Vietnam, though.
The Things They Carried
Tim O’Brien (1990)
It got 5 out of 5 stars from me.
Things may happen that are completely false, but another thing may not happen and be more true than the truth.
If you’re only going to read one book about Vietnam, make it The Things They Carried, by my friend, Tim O’Brien, who lives in my home state. In O’Brien’s writing, the words are so beautiful that they make you think of poetry rather than prose. One sentence will give you an idea:
When they had to carry a lot more than they thought they could, they also kept their silent awe for the terrible power of what they had.
The narrator, who is called Tim O’Brien, is writing down his memories of Vietnam. It has been 40 years since the war came to an end. The feelings of those memories are so real that you feel completely immersed in them. In one of my favorite stories, O’Brien talks about how it felt to get his draft notice. Feelings: You can sense how O’Brien was feeling. You can feel the anger and paralysis. You can also feel the bitterness and self-pity. The way he thinks about running away to Canada almost makes you feel like you’re there with him. I’m not a big fan of war stories. These are the only ones that are different. Some of them don’t talk much about battles or fighting. They talk about what soldiers are thinking while walking through the jungle or waiting in their camp, or when they are walking through fields with mines. Another thing that stands out to me is how silly some of the stories are. For example, in the movie Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong, a soldier’s girlfriend comes to live with him and his friends at their post and starts going on night missions in the jungle with them. This could never happen, but the story makes you feel so real.
Karl Marlantes (2010)
It got 5 out of 5 stars from me.
“It was all absurd, without reason or meaning. People who didn’t know each other were going to fight over a hill that no one cared about.
Karl Marlantes wrote “Matterhorn,” which is about the Vietnam War and has 617 pages. It’s a long book. It’s a story of a young bookish Marine Lieutenant, Waino Mellas, and the soldiers he commands in Bravo Company. To get to the mountain, he and his men are dropped off in the middle of the Vietnamese jungle. They’ve been told to take a mountain. I don’t like war stories, but this one spoke to me. Perhaps I liked Waino because he was so into books. People who like to read about war and fights aren’t the only ones who will enjoy this. There was no good reason for the war, and the American military leaders were very bad at it. Things that stuck with me were how the marines were told to take a mountain. This is what I found interesting. After fighting to the death, they’d win only to be told to give it up. Huh????
The Mountains Sing
By Nguyen Phan Que Mai (2020)
I’m always on the lookout for books about Vietnam written by people who live in Vietnam. In Vietnamese, Nguyen Pan Que Mai wrote The Mountains Sing. It’s going to be translated into English. From the 1920s to the present, it tells the story of Tran Dieu Lan and her family through the years. Tran’s family came from the North. Her family had to move to Hanoi because of land reforms by the communists, so they moved there.
The Sorrow of War
Bao Ninh (1987)
People in Vietnam were all over the place with copies of The Sorrow of War in English. The bad news is that I didn’t pick it up. Having read a book about the war from the North Vietnamese point of view would have been nice. It’s a book about the author’s time in the Glorious 27th Youth Brigade. He served from 1965 to 1976 like the main character. Ninh was one of 10 people from his unit that made it out alive. The narrator (the author) talks about the war in a way that isn’t in a logical order.
Viet Thanh Nguyen (2015)
“I can live without TV, but not without books.”
As I have said before, I love reading books on Vietnam written by Vietnamese people or Vietnamese people who live in the United States. The Sympathizer is written by Viet Thanh Nguyen, who is Vietnamese and lives in the U.S. She wrote it. I think it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2016. The narrator is a half-French, half-Vietnamese soldier from the South Vietnamese army who lives in France now. As a double agent, he’s also working for the North Vietnamese, but not in the open. Then he leaves Vietnam with the other refugees. In America, he tells his superiors in Hanoi about the people he used to work with and his friends.
In the beginning, I thought I was going to love this book, but now, I’m not sure. The writing is good on the other hand. Nguyen is a funny writer. : I understand and agree with his point that the story of the Vietnam-American War that we get in the United States is only one that is told from the point-of-view of the United States, and that point-of-view is often racist and arrogant. People told the story from Nguyen’s point of view. To be honest with you, though, I found myself wishing to finish the book so I could get out of reading it. Because the narrator was so bad, I didn’t like him. He’s rude, angry, and cold-blooded. I also hoped that Nguyen’s view of the war would be more complex. This is what I thought, too. But instead, I thought he painted the American side with as many stereotyped brushstrokes as he says American writers do. This is what I thought he did.
A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
By Robert Olen Butler (1992)
This is how I rate it: 4 out of 5.
As I said before, “He had faith.” I could tell that he had been raised by Buddhists. The communists could make use of that. Some of the Catholics couldn’t be touched by them, but the Buddhists who didn’t believe in all of the mysticism were well-equipped for communism. The communists had a lot of right ideas, right intentions, right speech, and all that other good stuff, too. In 1993, A Good Smell from a Strange Mountain won the Pulitzer Prize for the best work of fiction. There are a lot of short stories in this book written by Robert Olen Butler. They’re all told from the point of view of Vietnamese immigrants. All of them live in Louisiana, and they all go to school there. Some of them are Catholics who fled North Vietnam when the country was first split up, and some are Buddhists who came from the South. Catholics lived in the North, and Buddhists lived in the South. Before reading this book, I didn’t know that there was a big difference between the two groups. The stories are about something that happened to the people in them, either in Vietnam or the United States, and it happened either way.
But Butler joined the US military, and he was sent to language school to learn Vietnamese before he started his tour of duty there. He was already able to speak Vietnamese when he came to the country, so he didn’t have Through his language skills, he was able to get to know people in Vietnam. This is how it worked out: He saw a side of Vietnam that most American journalists and soldiers would never get to see. It was 25 years ago when this book first came out. I read these short stories for the first time. At the time, no one thought that the author, a white American male, was wrong for writing from the point of view of Vietnamese immigrants. There are some people who don’t like how Butler thinks he can write in the voice of someone who came from Vietnam.
The Bride Test
Helen Hoang (2019)
People in the government didn’t care about her, the schools didn’t, and the scholarship groups didn’t, but this one person did, and sometimes one person can make a big difference. To make things worse, the first book on this list of books about Vietnam isn’t a book that I can recommend at all. Even so, I guess that’s how it works when you are putting things in a certain order. In The Bride Test, I had high hopes for it. A book by the same author that I really liked was The Kiss Quotient, which got 5 stars. But the Bride Test didn’t work.
If you look at the cover, you can tell that The Bride Test is a romance or “chick-lit.” The Bride Test is the story of Khai Diep, a Vietnamese-American who is also autistic. He is very handsome, but he is also very smart. Khai has a hard time feeling emotions, so he avoids relationships, especially romantic ones. When he doesn’t have a girlfriend, his mother is worried, so she goes to Vietnam to look for one for him. She comes back with Esme, a young woman who is half Vietnamese and half Caucasian. Will Khai fall in love with Esme? To find out, read. What made this book not so great for me? No one is very interesting, and the story doesn’t make sense. : Esme was superficial and selfish. Khai was just a dull person. And I don’t think they had a lot of fun together. If you want to see real chemistry, read the Kiss Quotient first. It’s also very rare for a mother to choose a bathroom attendant as a future wife for her son, especially if she is Asian and is concerned about how well her son is seen by other people.