The Sorrow of War

By Bảo Ninh,

Book cover of The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam

Book description

This is the semi-autobiographical account of a soldier's experiences. The hero of the story, Kien, is a captain. After 10 years of war and months as a MIA body-collector, Kien suffers a nervous breakdown in Hanoi as he tries to re-establish a relationship with his former sweetheart.

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Why read it?

6 authors picked The Sorrow of War as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

This is an autobiographical novel that will change your perspective on the Vietnam War. The protagonist of the story, Kien, leaves Hanoi to join the ranks of those going south to liberate the country from the Americans and their South Vietnam allies.

It’s 1965. The Americans are invading. Scores of young men and women like Kien march off in a great patriotic wave from the North to save the South. The patriotic groundswell doesn’t last long though, as Bao Ninh plunges us into the brutality of the Vietnam War.

Through Kien, we discover for the first time what the experience…

Much of America’s voluminous literature, scholarship, and films on the Vietnam War focus on the suffering of American G.I.s. This novel takes us into the heart of a North Vietnamese soldier struggling with PTSD. It is a gripping, wrenching tale of lives uprooted, futures destroyed, and dreams torn apart. It is a story that humanizes those seen as enemies: average people caught in the madness of war.

From Zachary's list on knowing your enemy.

A North Vietnamese soldier remembers the disasters of war as he returns to collect the bones of his fallen comrades.

Written as a stream of consciousness that leaps between time and place, The Sorrow of War is a multi-dimensional portrait of personal loss.

Bảo Ninh’s account of the ‘screaming souls jungle’ tells you all you need to know about the pity of war, the pity war distilled.

The Sorrow of War will stand for all time as one of the quieter, so all the more telling, indictments of inhumanity.

From Paul's list on on 20th century conflict.

Too often the “enemy” in Vietnam is only a shadowy or perhaps superhuman figure in books on the war.  This book, though, is different. A book that is never quite sure whether it is an autobiography or fiction tells the haunting story of Kien, a North Vietnamese soldier – one of only a handful of his unit to survive the conflict. The book jumps backward and forward in time, lurching the reader; leaving the reader confused; just as Kien felt as the war tore his world apart. 

From hunting through the jungle for dead bodies to the strains of battle,…

From Andrew's list on the Vietnam War from different POVs.

Bao Ninh is a veteran of what we called the North Vietnamese Army; he fought for six years, mostly in the heavily jungled Central Highlands, and lost most of the people in his unit.

The experience of the war his main character, Kien, reflects is at that level, very different than the war Tim O’Brien describes. It is a difference not just because of the variance between the guerilla war of the coast and the more conventional warfare in the Central Highlands, but, as one would expect, it is the Americans who become background scenery to the Vietnamese experience instead…

A friend of mine gave me a copy of this book that he had brought back from a trip to Costa Rica in the mid-1990s. It haunts me still when I reflect upon it and burns in my subconscious like the Wille Pete (white phosphorous) our military used to terrorize the Vietnamese. It is the story of Kien, a North Vietnamese soldier. After the war, in 1976, Kien and others are sent to the Central Highlands to collect bodies for reburial. They are sent to The Jungle of Screaming Souls where Kien was the only survivor of his battalion. Kien’s…

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