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A piercing, unforgettable tale of the horror and spiritual weariness of war, Novel Without a Name will shatter every preconception Americans have about what happened in the jungles of Vietnam. With Duong Thu Huong, whose Paradise of the Blind was published to high critical acclaim in 1993, Vietnam has found a voice both lyrical and stark, powerful enough to capture the con A piercing, unforgettable tale of the horror and spiritual weariness of war, Novel Without a Name will shatter every preconception Americans have about what happened in the jungles of Vietnam. With Duong Thu Huong, whose Paradise of the Blind was published to high critical acclaim in 1993, Vietnam has found a voice both lyrical and stark, powerful enough to capture the conflict that left millions dead and spiritually destroyed her generation. Banned in the author's native country for its scathing dissection of the day-to-day realities of life for the Vietnamese during the final years of the "Vietnam War, " Novel Without a Name invites comparison with All Quiet on the Western Front and other classic works of war fiction. The war is seen through the eyes of Quan, a North Vietnamese bo doi (soldier of the people) who joined the army at eighteen, full of idealism and love for the Communist party and its cause of national liberation. But ten years later, after leading his platoon through almost a decade of unimaginable horror and deprivation, Quan is disillusioned by his odyssey of loss and struggle. Furloughed back to his village in search of a fellow soldier, Quan undertakes a harrowing, solitary journey through the tortuous jungles of central Vietnam and his own unspeakable memories.


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A piercing, unforgettable tale of the horror and spiritual weariness of war, Novel Without a Name will shatter every preconception Americans have about what happened in the jungles of Vietnam. With Duong Thu Huong, whose Paradise of the Blind was published to high critical acclaim in 1993, Vietnam has found a voice both lyrical and stark, powerful enough to capture the con A piercing, unforgettable tale of the horror and spiritual weariness of war, Novel Without a Name will shatter every preconception Americans have about what happened in the jungles of Vietnam. With Duong Thu Huong, whose Paradise of the Blind was published to high critical acclaim in 1993, Vietnam has found a voice both lyrical and stark, powerful enough to capture the conflict that left millions dead and spiritually destroyed her generation. Banned in the author's native country for its scathing dissection of the day-to-day realities of life for the Vietnamese during the final years of the "Vietnam War, " Novel Without a Name invites comparison with All Quiet on the Western Front and other classic works of war fiction. The war is seen through the eyes of Quan, a North Vietnamese bo doi (soldier of the people) who joined the army at eighteen, full of idealism and love for the Communist party and its cause of national liberation. But ten years later, after leading his platoon through almost a decade of unimaginable horror and deprivation, Quan is disillusioned by his odyssey of loss and struggle. Furloughed back to his village in search of a fellow soldier, Quan undertakes a harrowing, solitary journey through the tortuous jungles of central Vietnam and his own unspeakable memories.

30 review for Novel Without a Name

  1. 4 out of 5

    Aubrey

    Lovesick doves cooed all day in the bamboo. Grasshoppers flew in the grass on the edge of the dikes. Women laughed, teasing and chasing one another, rolling in the rice fields. They made us laugh...There was once a kite that dipped and swayed in the blue of the sky, our dreams reeling in the same space...And there is the earth, this mud where the flesh rots, where eyes decompose. These arms, these legs that crunch in the jaws of the boars. The souls ulcerated and foul from killing, the bodies s Lovesick doves cooed all day in the bamboo. Grasshoppers flew in the grass on the edge of the dikes. Women laughed, teasing and chasing one another, rolling in the rice fields. They made us laugh...There was once a kite that dipped and swayed in the blue of the sky, our dreams reeling in the same space...And there is the earth, this mud where the flesh rots, where eyes decompose. These arms, these legs that crunch in the jaws of the boars. The souls ulcerated and foul from killing, the bodies so starved for tenderness that they haunt stables in search of pleasure. There is this gangrene that eats at the heart... This is the first book I've read that is wholly concerned with the Vietnam War. It was likely simple procrastination that birthed the mission to have my first literature experience set in complete opposition to the mythos of the US, the endless me me me of protests and veterans and yet another tale of isolated invaders making a far away country their Agent Orange playground of honored atrocity. People suffered, yes, people died, yes, but these people could escape. Those who feel I'm belittling, look at the wealth of white-gaze narratives and monuments and politics on one end. Then make your way over. Orangutans are almost human. There's no tastier flesh. One, the author was a Việt cộng, before whom the United States fell to its knees. Two, the author is a woman, one of three survivors of forty after setting off at twenty years of age, and the first scene is of female bodies with the remains of breasts and genitals strewn around their worm-ridden corpses. Three, none of this matters, but such a rare perspective does deserve our full attention. It's like dreaming. That's what it's like when you plunge into a forest. You can call and scream all you like; no one can hear you. Bear in mind that this is the story of a winner. Bear in mind at all times that this is the story of a soldier whose hope has bred with their despair for far too long. Always remember that this is just one of the usual youths plumped up by the idealogues for the slaughter, for whom it took ten years of mishaps of death and decay on a nightmare landscape to reach the nickname of 'Chief' and the insanity to show for it. Fighting and dying; two acts, the same indescribable beauty of the war. Suddenly I remembered my mother's savage, heartrending cry, her face bathed in sweat, the horrible spasm that had disfigured her, and then, on that same, horribly twisted face, the radiance of the smile born with a child's cry, when she saw his tiny red legs beat the air...Barbaric beauty of life, of creation. It had slipped away, dissolved in the myriad memories of childhood. I was seized with terror. No one can bathe in two different streams at the same time. Me, my friends, we had lived this war for too long, steeped ourselves for too long in the beauty of all its moments of fire and blood. Would it still be possible, one day, for us to go back, to rediscover our roots, the beauty of creation, the rapture of a peaceful life? Fortunately for us, there is a mercy the soul of someone utterly sick with blood spilled for an ideal, and so we don't mind being enmeshed in the memorial swamp of this "gook" as much. Or perhaps we do, for we don't want to hear of forbearance of raping out of concern for the eventual danger of pregnant labor, we don't want to know about what horrors of flora and fauna will be birthed out of a healthy sprinkling of mortar and military grade herbicide, we don't want to see the blonde-haired blue-eyed as an unnatural invader after all this respect and courage and love of the other side, a side with its own measure of brave people and unfeeling corruption. You don't need Communism for an all but (are you sure?) Soylent Green extraction of the many by the few. You just need humanity, greed, their inherent love for lies, all of them ubiquitous, all of them wherever you may lay your weary head. "Everything we've paid for with our blood belongs to the people." Kha just laughed. "Ah, but do the people really exist?...You see, the people, they do exist from time to time, but they're only a shadow. When they need rice, the people are the buffalo that pulls the plow. When they need soldiers, they cover the people with armor, put guns in the people's hands. When all is said and done, at the festivals, when it comes time for the banquets, they put the people on an alter, and feed them incense and ashes. But the real food, that's always for them." We haven't even touched upon the redemption and the fever craze, the insipidness of mortal circumstances and the graveyard leech of military success, the postcolonial inheritance of cannibal ideals and the retributional maw of time, what happens when everything is said and done and the pieces expect to be picked up. But you can find out for yourself. Revolution, like love, blooms and then withers. But revolution rots much faster than love, 'comrade.'

  2. 4 out of 5

    Zanna

    We might look at it this way: one of the areas of life from which female voices are sorely absent is the war front. There are relatively few soldierly memoirs, fictionalised or otherwise, by women. Duong Thu Huong fought in the war she describes, yet she chooses to take the perspective of a man, Quan, who is living in the blur of transitions from young to middle-aged, from idealism to disillusionment through the dark tunnel of a long, grinding conflict. Initially I was disappointed by We might look at it this way: one of the areas of life from which female voices are sorely absent is the war front. There are relatively few soldierly memoirs, fictionalised or otherwise, by women. Duong Thu Huong fought in the war she describes, yet she chooses to take the perspective of a man, Quan, who is living in the blur of transitions from young to middle-aged, from idealism to disillusionment through the dark tunnel of a long, grinding conflict. Initially I was disappointed by her decision, but very quickly I realised that I was wrong to be, since she brings to Quan's perspective a focus that runs counter to the notions of masculinity, particularly as imagined through military conflict, in my culture, emphasising the web of personal, deeply felt connections with family, friends old and new in his sorrow-stained world, his deep capacity for empathy and his susceptibility to communion with the landscape and reflection on emotional relationships, interpersonal and between people and land, nation and political movements. The result is a moody, moving, curiously light novel, in which constant sorrow like tirelessly falling rain is balanced by the warmth of friendship and sensuousness. If you hate war literature, perhaps try this anyway. What made me feel a sustaining comfort in reading this was that the relationships between soldiers everywhere is one of deep trust - how important this is! When Quan is lost in a wooded valley, a dead man's spirit calls to him knowing he can help; the spirit trusts him and he can be trusted. When he almost dies of starvation and heatstroke, a child is able to revive him with produce from the land; young rice porridge, honey, tea made from the same herbs the soldiers use for camouflage. The land is on the side of its children. Bien, Quan's old friend, mad in a pile of filth, is healed and sane the moment his friend comes for him. Quan returns to his home village. He remembers his mother with love, has none for his father. Yet he draws strength from deep roots in community. Gifts speak kindly. Age is counted from conception 'the first year in the belly'. Roots! Quan dreams often of his village, another life 'no one can step in two streams at once' the war is 'indescribably beautiful', so that he fears he will not know how to live in peace. And I trust him... Quan is so pleasant, gently, kind, caring, humane. A fellow soldier, Hung, is his psychopathic alter-ego. Quan understands him, fears him, recognises in Hung's lack of it what makes him who he is: the love of others and for others. Many of his duties are pleasant for wherever he goes he takes pleasure in people and in helping them, and he remains inexhaustibly sensitive to beauty and emotion. He laments loss and death with genuine grief, mourning men and their talents, feeling the anguish of mothers and fathers and sweethearts; no violence is numbly witnessed here, every blow and cut and pang raises a response, a wound. Quan's talent is clear; he is a poet, even if he writes no verses. This is a novel of such warmth it makes murder unthinkable. War is an outrage against a spirit like Quan's, yet bitterly he goes on, dreaming layers of his own past, warming to joy in sweet sunlight and in the pleasures of food and talk and memory. One late dream visitation is an unknown ancestor who weeps for him, has an enigmatic message that Quan rejects in irritation and confusion. This encounter coincides with Quans disillusionment at the hands of a younger soldier, the most significant development in his character. In the light of this, the 'wraith's' comment about 'triumphal arches' takes on a new meaning I think. Quan mixes up his ancestor's urging with the Party's mythology; both seem to be trying to extract life and effort from the people in the name of worthless, illusory glory. But when the image of the Party shatters, Quan will have to find a new meaning for the words and tears of the ghost: what triumph can he and his comrades really reach? What arching legacy would he bestow, given the choice? It's his coming to maturity that makes this question urgent, yet leaves it open. The text's meandering, cycling, flat structure mirrors the monotony of the long conflict. There are no climaxes; even the fabular omen of the lynx brings undramatised suffering and death. Hardship and grief are as much the substance of daily life as rice and shrimp sauce. Quan's dreams offer a shift in tone to high flown and emotive language, but the tedium of attritional conflict evoked by Quan's plodding quests is not reflected in readerly boredom. As Quan labours through landscapes of irresistable, soul-nourishing (though often melancholic) beauty, so the reader is led along a channel of sweetness and sadness that compels empathy, attention, hunger for the next day, the next journey, the next dream. As Quan finds the strength to live, I grew stronger myself. I found his relationships crowding into my heart. Every interaction had, I felt, an ease and tenderness totally absent in my culture from all but the tightest sibling bonds. If my people are to make ourselves whole, I thought, we must learn to speak to each other like this. Perhaps it's just me. My brother knows how. I have been thinking critically about the violence in the language of book reviews and the synopsis of this edition here is a case in point. I was not pierced or shattered by this book, rather I was embraced by it, engulfed if you must, but gently: a sister grasped my hand while she told me a necessary tale in her kind, sorrow roughened voice. She helped me to see and hear what I had lived blind and deaf to, and I thank her and wish her peace.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jimmy

    I don't think I've ever read a war novel, other than The Red Badge of Courage, and that was only because it was required reading for school. It simply does not interest me. But here I thought I'd give this one a chance, since it was written by a Vietnamese woman, i.e. not your typical war novel writer.“All [Hoang] had left was one arm, one leg, and a diary filled with gilded dreams. I remember ripping the [Communist] Party newspaper into shreds and throwing them into a stream. I never told anyone, of course. It wawriter.“All I don't think I've ever read a war novel, other than The Red Badge of Courage, and that was only because it was required reading for school. It simply does not interest me. But here I thought I'd give this one a chance, since it was written by a Vietnamese woman, i.e. not your typical war novel writer.“All [Hoang] had left was one arm, one leg, and a diary filled with gilded dreams. I remember ripping the [Communist] Party newspaper into shreds and throwing them into a stream. I never told anyone, of course. It was then that I realized that lies are common currency among men, and that the most virtuous are those who have no scruples about resorting to them. Since then, I've stopped reading newspapers, let alone bulletins from the front. I understood how those who didn't know this still felt joy, just as I understand their lust for victories, their fervor for drawing lines between true and false. Blindness gave them such extraordinary energy.”When we join Quan, the narrator, he's already a broken man, already seen way too much. He's already telling his men things they want to hear while knowing in his heart the dark truth. From there, the novel is a series of hazy episodes, not novelistic at all in that there was no story arc--but this I found to be a strength. There was none of that fake structure placed on it to suggest any kind of closure is even possible. At first I was not sure what to make of the title Novel Without a Name. But then I realized that a name is an attachment. Once you name something, a pet, a baby, a vehicle, you start to get attached. Perhaps the name of this novel without a name is just that–an attempt to not be human. An attempt to distance oneself from the emotions that we would otherwise feel if we were human. An attempt to not hurt. This was a good book. Don't let the mediocre star rating fool you, I enjoyed it more than I think I could have enjoyed any war novel.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    The war for national unification--one hesitates to call it liberation, since the bulk of the novel takes place after the Americans have withdrawn--narrated by a Northern veteran. Quan, having enlisted as a patriotic eighteen year old, reflects on the changes that ten years of war and violence has inflicted on his country and his life. He finds many of the same issues that the American soldiers experienced during their service and after their return: a self-serving command structure blinded by id The war for national unification--one hesitates to call it liberation, since the bulk of the novel takes place after the Americans have withdrawn--narrated by a Northern veteran. Quan, having enlisted as a patriotic eighteen year old, reflects on the changes that ten years of war and violence has inflicted on his country and his life. He finds many of the same issues that the American soldiers experienced during their service and after their return: a self-serving command structure blinded by ideology, post-traumatic stress, friendly fire, and, most devastating of all, loss of faith. Sent on a mission to his village, a family shattered, a loved one beyond estrangement. But this is Quan's own country, so survival does not lead to escape, and winning is not triumphant: even as it drives toward victory, the North deploys a lonely woman whose only job is to gather the corpses of its soldiers and a brigade for the sole task of making coffins. The prose of Duong Thu Huong, the justly celebrated Vietnamese novelist, is (at least in this translation) spare and unsentimental, as befits a soldier who is moving, to borrow the title of one of her other novels, beyond illusions. And yet there are moments where the prose, for all its devastating clarity, pierces: "'Don't breathe a word--to anyone. These days relatives spy against relatives, like jackals. Even their faces have changed. These aren't human faces anymore,'" Quan is told. Later he tells one of his soldiers, "'I am afraid there is going to come a time when no one will want to say anything to anyone anymore...'" And "Later in life, I learned that all the petty treacheries and crimes between people happen like that, seeping into relationships as easily as rain passes through straw." It is one thing for a writer to take up her country's pride in its struggle, but only the greatest can show it as a nightmare, that pushes a decent person, Quan, to the edge of what is human. But not beyond.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sentimental Surrealist

    We've all, I'm sure, seen plenty of anti-Vietnam movies - Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, The Deer Hunter. But how many of us have experienced a piece of art that told Vietnam's story from the Vietnamese perspective? Duong Thu Huong seeks to give the country a voice with this novel, and oh does she succeed in the most horrifying way imaginable. This novel is often compared with All Quiet on the Western Front, and like that novel, this is a largely unstructured and plotless novel, to fit alongside the ide We've all, I'm sure, seen plenty of anti-Vietnam movies - Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, The Deer Hunter. But how many of us have experienced a piece of art that told Vietnam's story from the Vietnamese perspective? Duong Thu Huong seeks to give the country a voice with this novel, and oh does she succeed in the most horrifying way imaginable. This novel is often compared with All Quiet on the Western Front, and like that novel, this is a largely unstructured and plotless novel, to fit alongside the idea of war as a dull, grueling thing. It isn't even divided into chapters, preferring instead to take the form of several brief episodes ranging in length from a few paragraphs to a few pages. Throughout these episodes, emphasis is placed on the complete debasement and loss of innocence the war has wreaked on those who fight it. Much is made throughout the novel of fighting the war for the sake of glory, but there isn't much glory to be found here. So that's one reason for me to love this novel. I hate the idea of war, and can only think of three even remotely justifiable wars America has participated in: World War II is obvious, and I see both the American Revolution and the Civil War as inevitable; even then, I'm convinced America committed a few crimes over the course of the Second World War (the atomic bomb springs to mind) that don't fully bear out our reputation as the glorious heroes of that war. What pushes this novel up to the top for me, besides it matching with my own beliefs and several beautiful passages ("On the banks the lush green foliage gently rippled. The paddles lapped monotonously at the water, in cadence") is the treatment of the characters. With the minimal physical description they're offered and the emphasis on their past, they seem to appear and disappear like ghosts, resulting in several fascinating exchanges about ideology and the nature of war. Check this out.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    Why I think this might be the finest piece of Vietnam War fiction I've ever read, even better than the fine accounts given by Tim O'Brien and Bao Ninh, and a ready rival to that of Denis Johnson. Most American art tends to describe the Vietnam War in gruff plainspeak (The Things They Carried, The Deer Hunter) or fractured psychedelia (Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Tree of Smoke), Vietnamese writers take a different tack altogether. Vietnam might have been the war that signaled th Why I think this might be the finest piece of Vietnam War fiction I've ever read, even better than the fine accounts given by Tim O'Brien and Bao Ninh, and a ready rival to that of Denis Johnson. Most American art tends to describe the Vietnam War in gruff plainspeak (The Things They Carried, The Deer Hunter) or fractured psychedelia (Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Tree of Smoke), Vietnamese writers take a different tack altogether. Vietnam might have been the war that signaled the end of America's age of innocence, but it was the war that defined the very existence of the Vietnamese nation. For an entire nation to be colonized, cut in half along Cold War lines, and then bathed in blood for two decades, well, that does things to a culture. Quan, the protagonist, is honest and cynical and deathly afraid and wandering the ravaged hills of Vietnam, trying to reconcile the lyrical, village world of his childhood with the world he inhabits. And, unlike the Americans, for him there is not even the hope of an escape route.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Windy hapsari

    i cant say this is my review, its more like my comment. this book is my favourite book, about the vietnam war, about how the vietnamnesse face the war. I read this book is like a thousand time. but i never get bored. I always have negative opinion about army or soldier, but maybe in the war situation those soldier return to their main function. to defend their country, to be the savior.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ronald Morton

    How proud we were of our youth! Ten years ago, the day we left for the front, I had never imagined this. All we had wanted was to be able to sing songs of glory. Who cared about mortars, machine guns, mines, bayonets, daggers? Anything was good for killing, as long as it brought us glory We pulled the trigger, we shot, we hacked away, intoxicated by hatred; we demanded equality with our hatred. The primary events of this novel take place in the last year of the conflict between North and South Vietnam. How proud we were of our youth! Ten years ago, the day we left for the front, I had never imagined this. All we had wanted was to be able to sing songs of glory. Who cared about mortars, machine guns, mines, bayonets, daggers? Anything was good for killing, as long as it brought us glory We pulled the trigger, we shot, we hacked away, intoxicated by hatred; we demanded equality with our hatred. The primary events of this novel take place in the last year of the conflict between North and South Vietnam. It’s important to distinguish that from the “Vietnam War” which is specific to the US intervention into the conflict, a conflict which preceded our intervention by a great number of years, and continued for another two years after the Paris Peace Accord was signed. Further, it is important to note that this novel is specifically and distinctly Vietnamese – with one brief exception – the Americans (all Westerners) are long gone by the events of this novel, and are basically never mentioned, even in the flashbacks. In the West the Vietnam War remains a major touchpoint of the 20th century, while here, in the context of a decades long conflict that tore a country apart, it’s not worth a mention. In many ways this reads like a standard war narrative; setting aside some cultural specifics, large passages of this novel could be read and interpreted to be about many other battles and wars. There is a universality to the proceedings, to the fears, to the anguish, to the long interminable grind of war that ties this into the long and storied tradition of the war novel. And yet, again, it is deeply personal and specific to the Vietnamese perspective. There is a long stretch where the protagonist travels across the country, ruminating over his 10 years of war, running into friends and acquaintances of his childhood and early war days, and eventually returning home. In this we are privy to the destruction and depravation – of infrastructure, of families, of philosophy, of culture – that decades of war inflicts. More than anything though, even with that focus on the high level destruction, the book is intimately focused on the psychological impact of war, of the constant assault on the psyche, and the loss of youth and innocence – as a society and as an individual – that cannot be reclaimed. Never. We never forget anything, never lose anything, never exchange anything, never undo what has been. There is no way back to the source, to the place where the pure, clear water once gushed forth. The river had out across the countryside, the towns, dragging. refuse and mud in its wake.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Addy

    Recommended Most of the war novels I have read have been written from an American perspective. The ability to explore a non-American view of the Vietnam war was something I didn't want to pass up. Reading Novel Without a Name was like walking through a dream. The world the author crafted was so surreally beautiful, and yet undeniably haunting. Many of the evocative images will stay with me; the soldiers sleeping in coffins to avoid tigers for example. Though described in lilting, lovely det Recommended Most of the war novels I have read have been written from an American perspective. The ability to explore a non-American view of the Vietnam war was something I didn't want to pass up. Reading Novel Without a Name was like walking through a dream. The world the author crafted was so surreally beautiful, and yet undeniably haunting. Many of the evocative images will stay with me; the soldiers sleeping in coffins to avoid tigers for example. Though described in lilting, lovely detail by Duong Thu Huong, the fact that death is still lurking for these soldiers in this time of vulnerability grounds the reader. The appeal of this book for me was originally getting to read a new perspective on the Vietnam war. This novel did this, but I was also stuck by the similarities that the author draws between the soldiers on both sides of the conflict; there is a scene near the end of the book of an interrogation between the main character, Quan, and a South Vietnamese prisoner. Quan and the reader are brought to an unsettling realization about the realities of war and the people who fight in it. Overall, I thought the writing in this book was decidedly beautiful, and I appreciated the opportunity to experience reading a book that was different from other war novels I have, and yet, oddly reminiscent in terms of the themes and ideas that are presented. I would recommend it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    5greenway

    Pretty harrowing stuff from start to finish. The more lyrical passages are pretty disorienting, the way they dovetail with all the brutality and disillusionment.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    Dương Thu Hương wrote about Vietnam from an experiential pov, having lived through war herself. The images she invokes are both incredibly beautiful and terribly horrible. These are captured in brief sentences and short paragraphs, frequently alternating between these two poles so that there is not an over-emphasis on one or another image, and instead a visceral blending occurs. So that, Even silk has a rough side. to put it very mildly. Many aspects of war are covered in, “Novel W Dương Thu Hương wrote about Vietnam from an experiential pov, having lived through war herself. The images she invokes are both incredibly beautiful and terribly horrible. These are captured in brief sentences and short paragraphs, frequently alternating between these two poles so that there is not an over-emphasis on one or another image, and instead a visceral blending occurs. So that, Even silk has a rough side. to put it very mildly. Many aspects of war are covered in, “Novel Without a Name.” The inheritance of a propensity towards war; “Like a curse that time had carried down from century to century in a symphony of innocent blood, raining down, drenching the earth.” Loss of innocence in gradual increments or all at once; “Never. We never forget anything, never lose anything, never exchange anything, never undo what has been. There is no way to the source, to the place where the pure clear water once gushed forth.” The things that can’t be said even in a book about the Vietnamese War and even from the perspective of a Viet Cong that cannot be expressed directly because they remain left unsaid as a “gangrene of that eats at the heart.” Like the lateral telling of napalm, “A heavy, suffocating odor, like fumes from a chemical factory, suffused the air. And everywhere, all through the valleys and ravines, drifted a weird, oppressive green vapor. Lights merged and flickered out, etching strange patterns in space." Or, the role that Dương Thu Hương confesses she really took part in, with, “In the old days they had concubines; now they call themselves ‘mission comrades.’ What courage this woman has. I am left in awe not only of Dương Thu Hương’s both lyrical and realistic novel of war, but of her story left to the imagination of the reader and all that she decided to not share with the world.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Frances Kuffel

    Set in Vietnam in 1975, on the verge of South Vietnam's capitulation to the north, Novel Without a Name is narrated by a North Vietnamese soldier who has been fighting for ten years. His round-trip journey to the north and back to the front for the final push, on his first leave, is both a love song of the country and its pre-colonial history, and an indictment of what the war has wrought on the people Quan has known or meets: his best friend's humiliation that after ten years he is still a serg Set in Vietnam in 1975, on the verge of South Vietnam's capitulation to the north, Novel Without a Name is narrated by a North Vietnamese soldier who has been fighting for ten years. His round-trip journey to the north and back to the front for the final push, on his first leave, is both a love song of the country and its pre-colonial history, and an indictment of what the war has wrought on the people Quan has known or meets: his best friend's humiliation that after ten years he is still a sergeant, his childhood sweetheart who was recruited as a "comfort girl" for the higher echelons, his observation of two Communist officials laughing at the people they govern, the hunger and homelessness of the population, the cynicism of the men he leads. "Fighting and dying: two acts, the same indescribable beauty of the war." "No on can bathe in two different streams at the same time. Me, my friends, we had lived this war for too long, steeped in the beauty of all its moments of fire and blood. Would it still be possible, one day, for us to go back, to rediscover our roots, the beauty of creation, the rapture of a peaceful life?"

  13. 5 out of 5

    Joan Colby

    Told from the perspective of a North Vietnamese soldier, this novel provides a very different view of the conflict. The people disdainfully referred to as gooks in Matterhorn are revealed as human beings: sensitive, callous, conflicted, corrupt, caring. Duong Thus Huong was a leader of a volunteer collective during the war and was one of just three (out of 40) to survive. While she is a woman, Novel Without a Name is told from a male perspective. Duong Thus Huong’s books were highly praised, but Told from the perspective of a North Vietnamese soldier, this novel provides a very different view of the conflict. The people disdainfully referred to as gooks in Matterhorn are revealed as human beings: sensitive, callous, conflicted, corrupt, caring. Duong Thus Huong was a leader of a volunteer collective during the war and was one of just three (out of 40) to survive. While she is a woman, Novel Without a Name is told from a male perspective. Duong Thus Huong’s books were highly praised, but banned in her own country after she was imprisoned for spreading “state secrets” which amounted to her having smuggled this novel along with other works to the west. Duong Thu Huong became a critic of the war and an advocate for human rights. While her books are not published in Vietnam, she resides in Hanoi.

  14. 4 out of 5

    William

    I read this book back to back with Tim O'Brien's brilliant 'The Things They Carried'. Both paint a portrait of the war in Vietnam from a soldier's perspective. In this case Quan is a VietCong who has spent 10 brutal years fighting. The book tells the story of a journey home to try to save a childhood friend. The journey is very much a journey into his own past and the effect of the war on him and all those he knew. It is also a poignant tale of loss and disillusionment but told without roma I read this book back to back with Tim O'Brien's brilliant 'The Things They Carried'. Both paint a portrait of the war in Vietnam from a soldier's perspective. In this case Quan is a VietCong who has spent 10 brutal years fighting. The book tells the story of a journey home to try to save a childhood friend. The journey is very much a journey into his own past and the effect of the war on him and all those he knew. It is also a poignant tale of loss and disillusionment but told without romanticising. No punches are pulled which makes it an excellent counterpoint to O'Brien's book. Well worth reading, especially it you plan to visit Vietnam.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bernie Gourley

    This novel’s protagonist, Quan, is a North Vietnamese soldier who, after ten years of war-fighting and surviving, has worked his way up to a junior officer position with a small unit under his command. Much of the story describes a road trip in the midst of war. One of Quan’s childhood friends who is now his superior officer, Luong, assigns Quan the task of going to visit a distant medical unit to check on a third common village friend, Bien, who is said to have had a nervous breakdown. Luong, f This novel’s protagonist, Quan, is a North Vietnamese soldier who, after ten years of war-fighting and surviving, has worked his way up to a junior officer position with a small unit under his command. Much of the story describes a road trip in the midst of war. One of Quan’s childhood friends who is now his superior officer, Luong, assigns Quan the task of going to visit a distant medical unit to check on a third common village friend, Bien, who is said to have had a nervous breakdown. Luong, further tells Quan to take some well-earned time off for a home visit, since the junior officer hasn’t been to see his home in a decade. In the latter part of the book, Quan returns to his unit after an uneasy home visit to see the father with whom he has strained relations (his mother ran away with another man), the neighbors he seems closer to than he is his own father, and his childhood sweetheart who has fallen on hard times -- having had to accept that the two would never be married. On the way, back to his unit, Quan checks on Bien who he busted out of horrific conditions at a field hospital and got reassigned to a special unit with the non-Infantry, but macabre, task of building coffins. The book ends with another uneasy transition, the war’s end – which sees Quan’s comrades in celebration, but also not sure what to expect after an entire adult life spent at war. Interspersed with the real-time events that occur as Quan travels through a jungle war-zone, one is shown flashbacks to some of the intense traumas of his years at war. These include friendly-fire incidents and the “only the good die young” effect in which it seems the most kind and virtuous are often the most perishable in times of war. There’s also a very human story that’s told about how war effects lives and transforms relationships – in some cases forging unbreakable bonds and in other cases building impenetrable barriers between loved ones. I’ve read a few books on the Vietnam War, both fiction and non-fiction, but this may be the first I’ve read from a North Vietnamese perspective. What is interesting about that is that the experiences and themes are often not that different than one sees in works like Karl Marlantes’s “Matterhorn” or Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried.” Soldiers on both sides have similar day-to-day experiences from boredom to horrors, and it has largely the same effect upon the soldier’s psyches. One of the overarching themes this book has in common with its American-centric counterparts is growing disillusionment. Like the American soldiers who often couldn’t comprehend what they were fighting for (other than the survival of their friends and themselves), Quan’s core beliefs become challenged over the course of the novel. It’s often been said that there are no atheists in foxholes, but it seems equally true that there are no ideologues in foxholes. The pragmatic concerns demanded of the war-fighter make it hard to be an impassioned Marxist or an impassioned follower of any ideology. This is seen in one scene in which an older officer is put off by Quan’s lack of enthusiasm for the Marxist message, and then later when the tables are turned and Quan converses with a young subordinate soldier who is even more disillusioned. Of course, there are differences. Quan is much more at home in the environment of the war – though not exempt from the miseries of the jungle. It’s not like he’s been dropped on a different planet as it was for American soldiers who had no experience of tropical living. On the other hand, an American soldier could at least rest assured that his loved one’s were home in safety, but for Quan and his peers there is no reason to think family is any more safe than they. Of course, the concept of traipsing through the war zone on a home visit after years successively at war represents one important difference that is also fundamental to the story. I found this book to be gripping and illuminating. It’s highly readable and relatable, even though there are flashbacks that take one out of a linear timeline; they are well done and not confusing. I would highly recommend this book for anyone who reads war stories, who enjoys translated fiction from other cultures, or who just wants a thought-provoking work of literary fiction.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Eve

    A novel about the Vietnam War from the point of view of a Vietnamese soldier. Although the war is all around, most of the novel is about its secondary effects -- the loss of young men, the damage to families and communities, the damage to the moral fabric of society. When a battle happens, it's over in just a few sentences unlike every other novel I've ever read about war. The author does not dwell on what happens in the battles; she's more concerned about the aftereffects and the other things g A novel about the Vietnam War from the point of view of a Vietnamese soldier. Although the war is all around, most of the novel is about its secondary effects -- the loss of young men, the damage to families and communities, the damage to the moral fabric of society. When a battle happens, it's over in just a few sentences unlike every other novel I've ever read about war. The author does not dwell on what happens in the battles; she's more concerned about the aftereffects and the other things going on. I'd have given it more stars but found it a bit hard to follow and hard to get emotionally invested.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ellie Dottie

    Had I reviewed this right after I read it I would probably have given it three stars, because this book is less plot heavy and I didn't have a feeling of being completely sucked into the story, but as I get further away from this book I like it more and more. The story and the main character has stayed with me and I feel myself coming back to this book again and again in both conversation and in my mind.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Joey Mollica

    At bit a hard to follow (admittedly, there was wine involved), this book was outstanding. Gritty, well written, and from a perspective I'd never thought I'd read about. Highly recommend reading (and in my case, re-reading) this novel.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Marisa

    I really just don't know about this book. I really enjoyed the image and the pace was good but there's just so much in it to unpack. Definitely gotta have a highlighter at hand! I liked I really did but it left me with more questions then answers in the end.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Angel

    had me tearing up within the first few pages...

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Curry

    Had to read this for a class. Interesting.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Grace

    My favorite of all Duong Thu Huong's works. Sparse, haunting imagery, this is a beautifully crafted, morally complex tale that has stayed with me for years since I've read it.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    Most idealisms falter. I wondered about the translation and how things unraveled during the coffin scene. Not sure what happened to Bien/ how his path went.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Christelle

    The tragedy of war as seen by a young vietcong.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kelly Johnson

    Such a great book, uniquely told. Editors didn’t anglicize the writing and it spills hauntingly off the page.

  26. 5 out of 5

    John

    Very interesting and moving account of a monumental tragedy.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mel

    Authentic and vivid imageries of war time Vietnam.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    Interesting in the beginning, but then it slows for quite some time until the last 70 pages or so. A neat read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    This is a grim book, a book about war and the effect constant fighting has on one person, a fighter in the North Vietnamese army. Novel Without a Name by Duong Thu Houng is a book about Quan's disillusionment, not only with the political institutions and propagandas perpetuated by them, but with everyone around him...maybe even in himself. While Americans are the enemy in the book, it is universal. How young men fight the wars that old men start, and how wily politicians make money of This is a grim book, a book about war and the effect constant fighting has on one person, a fighter in the North Vietnamese army. Novel Without a Name by Duong Thu Houng is a book about Quan's disillusionment, not only with the political institutions and propagandas perpetuated by them, but with everyone around him...maybe even in himself. While Americans are the enemy in the book, it is universal. How young men fight the wars that old men start, and how wily politicians make money off the misery of others. Quan initially is a big supporter of the war, he gladly and proudly joins up. After 10 years of fighting, and losing so many friends, he is seeing the hollowness of the propaganda phrases, he sees the negative change that has been come to his friends and him, the hardness and the meanness, and he longs for the days of simplicity. This book is grim, and very introspective. It is not about glory and honor, but about dirt and blood and starvation. It is about a journey of one fighter, a journey both physical and psychological. It is about being alone and the realization that with all the killing Quan has done and the dying he has seen, life has become worse for him, and his country. Slogans be damned, they do not reflect the truth. It is a very good book. The writing is terse at times, and not given to sympathy. It describes, and lets us know Quan's thoughts, but does not imbue them with nobility or great visions of clarity. Quan stumbles to his insight, slowly and painfully, with death his constant companion. It is a book about war, that I think has the ring, or the stink, of truth about it. The author herself was a soldier in the war, and herself became disillusioned with her leaders. I think the authenticity shows.

  30. 5 out of 5

    William Kirkland

    As it happens I’ve been thinking about war and its representation in fiction for many months, absorbing novels about WW I, written during, shortly after, and decades after the event. Not one opened with the power of Novel Without a NameNovel Without A Name. “I listened all night to the wind howl through the Gorge of Lost Souls. Endless moans punctuated by sobs. From time to time it whinnied like a mare in heat, whistling through the broken shafts of the bamboo roof above me, sweeping through t As it happens I’ve been thinking about war and its representation in fiction for many months, absorbing novels about WW I, written during, shortly after, and decades after the event. Not one opened with the power of Novel Without a NameNovel Without A Name. “I listened all night to the wind howl through the Gorge of Lost Souls. Endless moans punctuated by sobs. From time to time it whinnied like a mare in heat, whistling through the broken shafts of the bamboo roof above me, sweeping through the countryside in a macabre symphony of sound.” Immediately we know we are in a strange and melancholy place and, from the cover and the reasons we chose to read it, we know that place is war. Within a page we are fully into the horror, the horror seen and felt by the Vietnamese soldiers … a terrible stench that leads them to a small meadow where “six naked corpses. Women” are found. Mutilated. It doesn’t say who is responsible except of course, ‘the enemy.’ The girls ‘were northern girls.’ “We could tell by their scarves made out of parachute cloth and the lotus-shaped collars of their blouses. They must have belonged to a group of volunteers or a mobile unit that lost its way. Perhaps, like us, they had come here to search for bamboo shoots or vegetables.” Even in this appalling scene Duong finds a language of image, which continues through out the book, that is inventive, vivid and unforgettable... For a full review see http://www.allinoneboat.org/2012/11/3...

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