The best books about Ho Chi Minh City

1 authors have picked their favorite books about Ho Chi Minh City and why they recommend each book.

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Last Airlift

By Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch,

Book cover of Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphanas Rescue from Waraa

Many authors like to use the drama of battle to engage readers in history but instead in Last Airlift Marsha Skrypuch uses the emotional aftermath and upheaval. This is the real-life story of Son Thi Anh Tuyet at eight years old when she is rescued from a Saigon orphanage and airlifted to Toronto in April of 1975. Tuyet has survived polio and feels her limp will prevent her from being adopted so she makes herself useful and looks after the orphan babies. When she arrives in Canada, she expects to continue her role as a caregiver for children but instead finds a family that cares about her.  


Who am I?

When I was invited to write a historical fiction that appealed to male readers, I wanted to showcase the struggles and dramas in peacetime rather than in war. Scientists vilifying the fly in order to demonstrate the connection between microbes and disease—and enlisting children to kill the flynow that was a battle I could get behind. Revenge on the Fly, in all the forty books I’ve written, is my only foray into historical fiction. However, like most writers, I read across the genres voraciously. What I most love to read and write about are strong characters who demonstrate unwavering resilience.


I wrote...

Revenge on the Fly

By Sylvia McNicoll,

Book cover of Revenge on the Fly

What is my book about?

“Why must everyone I love die?” That’s the question 12-year-old William Alton asks of his father when a shipmate falls ill on their voyage to Canada. At his new school, Will gets a surprising answer. In 1912, cities around the world declare war on the fly, blaming it for the spread of all disease: summer complaint, typhus, consumption, and typhoid.

To avenge his mother and his sister’s recent deaths, Will throws himself into the local fly-killing contest using ingenuity and determination to rise to the top ranks. Along the way, he makes an enemy of wealthy super competitor Fred Aitken. Can Will beat Fred at his own game or will he maintain his integrity and stay on track of his real mission?

The Lotus Eaters

By Tatjana Soli,

Book cover of The Lotus Eaters

I’ve never read anything quite like this novel centering on a female photographer, Helen Adams, covering the Vietnam War. Years after reading it, I can still picture scenes and, I swear, feel the heaviness of the air and hear the fruit falling from the trees. Soli has talked about how she got tired of reading wonderful novels where the men went off and had wartime adventures and the women just dropped off the page. So she wrote her own wartime saga.

Helen Adams never drops off the page—she leaps off them. The writing is as lush as the landscape, and you’ll fall entirely into the world of the book. There’s war and treachery and duty and passion, and nothing is ever simple.


Who am I?

As someone who loves my work, I’ve noticed that in fiction when a woman is successful at her career, often that career mainly functions as a source of guilt or stress. Fictional working women spend a lot of time second guessing their choices, and, hey, it is hard to balance work and family. Women are torn in multiple directions. But I also believe it’s okay to love your job. It’s okay to find joy in it and to not beat yourself up. I find deep satisfaction in writing, and I enjoy reading about characters who know the rush of doing a job well.  


I wrote...

Family Law

By Gin Phillips,

Book cover of Family Law

What is my book about?

Set in 1980s Alabama, Family Law follows Lucia, an accomplished lawyer who’s made a name for herself at a time when a woman in a courtroom is still a rarity. She focuses her work on domestic abuse cases, messy divorces, and custody battles. When she meets Rachel, the teenage daughter of a potential client, an unlikely friendship is born – for Rachel, Lucia is proof that there are different ways of being a woman than the ones she’s been shown at home.

But Lucia’s work has put a target on her back. When threats against her start to put Rachel in danger, Lucia must decide what’s more important: the safety of those she cares about or the rights she’s spent her life fighting for. The story is a look at how we choose mothers other than the ones we’re born to, how we shape each other, and how we make a difference.

Saigon

By Anthony Grey,

Book cover of Saigon: An Epic Novel of Vietnam

If you don’t mind a long read and are after a novel rather than non-fiction then this is my pick. It is an epic saga of the last decades of the French in Indochina, following the story of American Joseph Sherman who becomes enchanted by the country and entangled in the lives of two different families, one French and one Vietnamese. It is essentially a love story involving a Mandarin’s daughter but it will give you a flavour of the political plot twists and military conflicts that were the reality of this turbulent period of history. The book spans 50 years to the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, but refreshingly does not try to push any real political perspective. Once again, it is a novel but it will certainly give you a taste of Indochine and an idea of the grand sweep of Vietnam’s tumultuous history. 


Who am I?

In the crucial period after the end of WW2 the stage became set for thirty years of war in Vietnam, yet there’s very little written of it. My stepfather was there, and Hanoi, Adieu is a memoir of his experiences and his sentiments about what happened in the country he’d grown to love. I have a fascination for Southeast Asian history and he was keen for me to tell his story such that readers could absorb the history through his book. I have recommended here those I enjoyed and found useful from a historical or atmospheric perspective in the larger context of French Indochina. I hope you will too.


I wrote...

Hanoi, Adieu - A Bitterweet Memoir Of French Indochina

By Mandaley Perkins,

Book cover of Hanoi, Adieu - A Bitterweet Memoir Of French Indochina

What is my book about?

Hanoi, Adieu is an intimate and compelling journey through the exotic and tumultuous final decades of French Indochina. It’s a unique book in that it is a memoir and eyewitness account from one of the few French civilians who remained in Hanoi throughout the chaotic and tragic aftermath of World War II. Michel L’Herpiniere worked with the writer to bring to life this little-known history that led to thirty years of war in Vietnam. The book was shortlisted for the 2006 NSW Premier's Award for Non-fiction: Narrative as strong and clear-eyed in discerning the political intricacies and their deadly consequences, as it is poetically evocative of the landscape and people… Hanoi, Adieu is an exquisitely beautiful and most beguiling story.” (Judge’s comments) 

Catfish and Mandala

By Andrew X. Pham,

Book cover of Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam

This New York Times Notable Book of the Year by a Vietnamese-American who was forced to flee his native country after the fall of Saigon is both travelogue and memoir, beautifully written, and a profound meditation on identity.


Who am I?

About thirty years ago I learned that my great-grandaunt Annie was, arguably, the first woman to circle the world by bicycle (1894-1895) and I spent years rescuing her story from the trash bin of history, for she was virtually forgotten for more than a century. An avid cyclist myself, Annie became both my muse and my inspiration. She was an outlandish character who stepped far outside the bounds of what was expected for women of her time; among other things, she was the married mother of three young children when she took off from Boston for fifteen months on the road, and she pioneered sports-related marketing for women, securing corporate sponsors and adorning her body and her bicycle with advertisements wherever she traveled.


I wrote...

Spin: A Novel Based on a (Mostly) True Story

By Peter Zheutlin,

Book cover of Spin: A Novel Based on a (Mostly) True Story

What is my book about?

Who was Annie Londonderry? She captured the popular imagination with her daring 'round the world trip on two wheels. It was, declared The New York World in October of 1895, "the most extraordinary journey ever undertaken by a woman."

But beyond the headlines, Londonderry was really Annie Cohen Kopchovsky, a young, Jewish mother of three small children, who climbed onto a 42-pound Columbia bicycle and pedaled away into history. Reportedly set in motion by a wager between two wealthy Boston merchants, the bet required Annie not only to circle the earth by bicycle in 15 months but to earn $5,000 en route, as well. This was no mere test of a woman's physical endurance and mental fortitude; it was a test of a woman's ability to fend for herself in the world.

The Sympathizer

By Viet Thanh Nguyen,

Book cover of The Sympathizer: A Novel

The narrator of this novel is a North Vietnamese spy embedded in a South Vietnamese refugee community in California. Full of treachery, duplicity, and betrayal, it is also hilariously funny. More than any other novel I’ve read, it captures the milieu of exile perfectly. Waiters, taxi drivers, and corner-store owners plotting murder in California and counter-revolution back home; wars from across the ocean fought all over again on the streets of Los Angeles. Every modern tale of exile resonates in this novel.


Who am I?

In 2010, I met a Somali refugee in Cape Town. His name was Asad Abdullahi. He told the tale of his life with a richness bordering on genius and I was hooked. I spent the next two years tracing his childhood footsteps through the Horn of Africa, looking for anyone and everyone he had encountered. In the course of writing a book about him, I read countless other books about exile, migration, and human beings on the move. My five recommendations are among the books that helped me imagine the experience of exile best. 


I wrote...

A Man of Good Hope

By Jonny Steinberg,

Book cover of A Man of Good Hope

What is my book about?

This book tells the story of a young Somali man, Asad Abdullahi. Separated from his family at the age of seven at the onset of civil war, he spent his childhood roaming the streets of East Africa.

Aged 19, Asad put $1,200 in his pocket and headed down the length of the African continent to Johannesburg to make his fortune. So began an adventure in a country richer and more violent than he could have imagined. A Man of Good Hope is the story of a person shorn of the things we have come to believe make us human – personal possessions, parents, siblings. And yet Asad is an intensely human life, one suffused with desires and a need to leave something of permanence on this earth.

On the Ho Chi Minh Trail

By Sherry Buchanan,

Book cover of On the Ho Chi Minh Trail: The Blood Road, the Women Who Defended It, the Legacy

Sherry Buchanan takes us on the Ho Chi Minh trail in a riveting and as relevant a journey to study today as it was 50 years ago. She charts new territory - especially in the vivid, often heartbreaking stories of women who fought in the war as teenagers and the forced roles of housewives who stood on rooftops facing death to shoot down US planes that bombed their homes. Buchanan details the countless centuries of Vietnam's perilous path to freedom. But her vivid writing and crystal clear interviews with women--their youthful dreams and present-day realities--shine a powerful light on a war and a previously unexplored dimension that should never be forgotten.


Who am I?

Myra MacPherson is an acclaimed author of five books and a journalist. She was hired by Ben Bradlee for the Washington Post where she spent twenty years and specialized in politics, in-depth human interest stories, profiles, and covered five presidential campaigns. During four decades of reporting she interviewed famous figures such as Fidel Castro, Helen Keller, and the mother of serial killer, Ted Bundy, as well as several Presidents.  Of all the milestone political moments MacPherson covered nothing impressed friends and family more than the 1964 landmark and legendary first American live concert of the Beatles (in the Nation’s Capital), which propelled them into international fame. MacPherson has continued her long career as a journalist, with articles in national magazines on the internet. Her most current -- Forgotten Father of the Abortion Movement, in The New Republic -- tackles abortion rights, which remains a highly controversial politicized battle nearly a half-century since abortion was declared legal in 1973.


I wrote...

Long Time Passing: Vietnam and the Haunted Generation

By Myra MacPherson,

Book cover of Long Time Passing: Vietnam and the Haunted Generation

What is my book about?

Joseph Heller, author of the iconic Catch 22 said of MacPherson’s book, "there has been no better body of war literature that I know of."

MacPherson was shaped by the men and women she interviewed and for decades has written and lectured on the lies of U.S.war policies and war’s aftermath.  (Her book was the first to examine an unknown term when originally published, PTSD.) She traveled to Vietnam to interview a few veterans who returned to aid Vietnamese; children who are still being born crippled from dioxin Agent Orange poisoning, and those maimed and killed when yesteryear’s unexploded bombs are accidentally triggered today. To her, the truth lies in books by both Vietnamese and Americans, and even then it won’t be all the truth about a war that spanned 10 years, killed 2 million Vietnamese civilians, and devastated American families of fallen soldiers. While she respects many outstanding and acclaimed books, she has picked these for their unique perspective.

Communion

By Kim Fay, Julie Fay Ashborn (photographer),

Book cover of Communion: A Culinary Journey Through Vietnam

Having lived in Vietnam in the 1990s for four years, the author longed to return and did so ten years later with her photographer sister Julie. Together with her old friend Huong, they travelled to seven cities to record regional dishes. They enjoyed eating haute cuisine and home-cooked meals, and at small eateries that are each famous for a specialty so, at times, they were racing through thick traffic on motorbike taxis to two places for the day's lunch.

Kim gives a clear sense of the vibrant environment and the people's lives, their strength, and friendliness. One could almost taste the fresh and light cuisine through the innovative words of Kim and Julie's wonderful photos.


Who am I?

I am a painter and a writer from Myanmar. The former profession is what I chose when I was 15 and began at 21, featured in a group exhibition of modern art and the only woman among several men. Since then I have exhibited in several group shows and have had seven solos. In the early 2000s by chance - and financial need - I became the Contributing Editor for the Myanmar Times weekly and a travel magazine until they closed down. Since then I have written around 20 books on food, culture, and travels and it kept me so busy that my art was put on hoId, but I hope to resume one day soon.


I wrote...

Nor Iron Bars a Cage

By Ma Thanegi,

Book cover of Nor Iron Bars a Cage

What is my book about?

I was a happily divorced painter until the 1988 uprising happened and along with some colleagues we got involved and were sent to Insein Prison. There I met other political prisoners and without any discussion, we had fun by not obliging those who wanted us to be miserable. During interrogations, we ran rings around the Intelligence guys with expressions of innocence we could slap our faces in an instant. Our group became like family, and we still are.

I so enjoyed the rare chance to make friends from the criminal element, learn of their lives and careers, and of hilariously failed endeavors. One gang leader I talked to at the gate vowed to break open anyone's head of my choice when we're out, for a favor I had done for him This book is perhaps a journey of sorts, although I would sincerely not recommend it to anyone.

Dispatches

By Michael Herr,

Book cover of Dispatches

As a Vietnam veteran, teacher of war literature, and writer, I am disappointed that I never interviewed Michael Herr. I can only imagine what such an encounter might have been like with this larger-than-life figure, at least the persona (adrenaline junky, reporter on drugs) found in this fragmented collection of war reportage. With its New Journalistic style and content, the sensory-overload writing might be best described as a collection of literary illumination rounds (their underlying message—war is hell and addictive). As a freelance journalist, Herr arrived in Vietnam wanting to reveal the large ugly truths about the war, which he succeeds in doing, but I find the soldiers’ personal war stories more gripping and truthful. For me and even Herr, the real surprise is that this book ultimately chronicles the author’s own war story of innocence lost: the anti-war reporter becomes just as addicted to war as some of his…


Who am I?

From an early age, I have made a life out of listening to, telling, teaching, and writing about war stories. I am intrigued by their widespread personal and public importance. My changing associations with these stories and their tellers have paralleled evolving stages in my life—son, soldier, father, and college professor. Each stage has spawned different questions and insights about the tales and their narrators. At various moments in my own life, these war stories have also given rise to fantasized adventure, catharsis, emotional highs and lows, insights about human nature tested within the crucible of war, and intriguing relationships with the storytellers—their lives and minds.


I wrote...

Writing Vietnam, Writing Life: Caputo, Heinemann, O'Brien, Butler

By Tobey C. Herzog,

Book cover of Writing Vietnam, Writing Life: Caputo, Heinemann, O'Brien, Butler

What is my book about?

My book includes extended conversations with four prominent American soldier-authors (Philip Caputo, Larry Heinemann, Tim O’Brien, and Robert Olen Butler) who fought in the Vietnam War. These individuals tell their life stories, discuss their writing process, and advise on the teaching of writing. In addition, the authors share their war stories, specifically what they did in war, what the war did to them, and how and why they wrote about their war experiences. These conversations, along with richly annotated life chronologies, reveal that these four prizewinning authors have diverse upbringings, values, war experiences, life experiences, writing careers, and literary voices. Together, their four life and war stories also present a mini-tableaux of the fascinating and troubling time of 1960s and 1970s America. 

Vietnam at War

By Phillip B. Davidson,

Book cover of Vietnam at War: The History: 1946-1975

Balanced, objective, and authoritatively informed, this is the best single military history of both the First Indochina War (1945 to 1954) and the Second Indochina War (1957 to 1975). Lt. General Davidson was the intelligence chief for two Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) commanders, General Westmoreland and General Abrams. His book provides the background information and expert analysis necessary for understanding what is called the Vietnam War in America and the American War in Vietnam.


Who am I?

In 1965, I voluntarily enlisted in the Army as a draft exempt, 26-year-old high school teacher. After completing the infantry officer, airborne, ranger, jumpmaster, special forces, and jungle warfare courses, in 1967 I was assigned to a Special Forces A-team in I Corps, Vietnam. In 1968, I volunteered for SOG, a top-secret recon-commando unit at a small, remote SF jungle camp that was later attacked by 3,000 to 4,000 North Vietnamese Army troops. With a master’s degree in history, I have since studied all aspects of the Vietnam War. Gregory Sanders, also a Vietnam veteran, and I researched, wrote, and in 2019 published a unique tactical, operational, and strategic narrative and analysis of that battle titled BAIT: the Battle of Kham Duc


I wrote...

Bait: The Battle of Kham Duc

By James McLeroy, Gregory Sanders,

Book cover of Bait: The Battle of Kham Duc

What is my book about?

The strategic potential of the three-day attack of two NVA regiments on Kham Duc, a remote and isolated Army Special Forces camp, on the eve of the first Paris peace talks in May 1968, was so significant that former President Lyndon Johnson included it in his memoirs. This gripping, original, eyewitness narrative and thoroughly researched analysis of a widely misinterpreted battle at the height of the Vietnam War radically contradicts all the other published accounts of it. In addition to the tactical details of the combat narrative, the authors consider the grand strategies and political contexts of the U.S. and North Vietnamese leaders.

"The most authentic account to date of the historic battle of Kham Duc in the Vietnam War, it convincingly explains why, contrary to all other accounts, it was an American tactical victory. Well written, impressively researched, and filled with new details, BAIT is highly recommended for scholars, students, and general readers of military history." -- Robert Turner, Professor and Distinguished Fellow, University of Virginia, Vietnam War veteran

The Heart of a Dog

By Mikhail Bulgakov, Mirra Ginsburg (translator),

Book cover of The Heart of a Dog

Bulgakov, a Russian born in Kyiv, wrote The Heart of a Dog in 1925 when the Soviet Union was in its infancy. It’s the breezy tale of a surgeon who transplants a human gland into a stray dog, turning an amiable mutt into a vile man.

There’s a punning reference to Stalin in the name of the least flattering character, and the author was clearly inviting his readers to read between the lines: this was an early satire on the Bolshevik social experiment.

It was rejected for publication and circulated instead in samizdat form. Remarkably though, Stalin took the writer under his wing and, while Bulgakov died young, he did so in his own bed. A political satirist can get away with a lot if they do it with charm.


Who am I?

The End of the World is Flat is my fifth novel. All my previous work has used comedy to help tell a story, often viewing historical lives and themes through a light-hearted modern prism. This one reverses the process, using historical material – various accounts of Columbus’ first voyage to the Caribbean – to explore a bizarre modern movement. Because I’m critiquing gender ideology – a taboo undertaking in most of the publishing world – I’ve deliberately borrowed the allegorical methods of Bulgakov, Kadare, and, especially, Orwell. I hope the ‘samizdat’ way in which my novel has become a word-of-mouth bestseller makes that homage all the more fitting.


I wrote...

The End of the World Is Flat

By Simon Edge,

Book cover of The End of the World Is Flat

What is my book about?

A Californian billionaire commissions a London charity called the Orange Peel Foundation to foist his flat-earth beliefs on an unsuspecting world. This may sound an impossible task but Orange Peel’s director uses the dark arts of social media to turn science on its head; he persuades gullible online zealots that old-style ‘globularism’ is hateful, while teachers and airline pilots face ruin if they reject the new ‘True Earth’ orthodoxy. Can a band of heretics – vilified as ‘True-Earth Rejecting Globularists’ (Tergs) – thwart Orange Peel before insanity takes over?

Matthew Parris of The Times said: "This sparkling little comic novel is more than playful: it’s a satire of Swiftian ferocity, a thinly veiled parody of a prevailing madness of the hour."

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