The Sorrow of War

The Sorrow of War

3.97 (3,348 ratings by Goodreads)
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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'.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 240 pages
  • 127 x 193.04 x 10.16mm | 158.76g
  • Vintage Publishing
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 074939711X
  • 9780749397111
  • 72,966

Review Text

A North Vietnamese veteran transforms his nation's conflict into an elegiac ode to doomed youth caught up in wars not of their making. This novel does not view war as a big, defining male adventure, but rather as something that crushes its participants when they are "young, very pure, and very sincere" and leaves behind a legacy of"sublime sorrow, more sublime than happiness and beyond suffering." The narrator, Kien, is a veteran turned writer who joined the army fresh out of school. In a narrative that moves back and forth in time, he records not only the horrors of war, but also his unsatisfactory relationships with his father and with Phuong, the young woman he's loved since childhood. An assignment searching for bodies after a big battle begins his story. It reminds him of old comrades killed in action, of friends deserting because they wanted to see their families, and of his doomed love for Phuong, who, raped repeatedly on a train under bombardment, became "a hardened experienced woman, indifferent to vulnerable emotions." He also describes his current difficulties: finding a place to live, money worries, and the memories that continue to assail him as he writes. ("The conflicts continued from the lines on pages into the real life of the author, the fighting refused to die.") At the end, we learn that this story is an abandoned manuscript being readied for publication by a stranger who understands that Kien wrote, "not because he had to publish...he had to think on paper." As one of 10 surviving members of a Youth Brigade once 500 strong, the author has the appropriate background for writing this novel, but - more importantly - his alchemy transforms the recognizable horrors of an actual war into universal experiences. A war novel in the great tradition of Remarque and Sassoon. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Review quote

"20 years on, [it] had an even greater impact on me than it did first time around... It is a remarkable and important novel" -- Jamie Byng Herald "The Sorrow of War vaults over all the American fiction that came out of the Vietnam war to take its place alongside the greatest war novel of the century, All Quiet on the Western Front. And this is to understate its qualities for, unlike All Quiet, it is a novel abut much more than war. A book about writing, about lost youth, it is also a beautiful agonising love story... a magnificent achievement" -- Independent "This hauntingly beautiful novel, written by a North Vietnamese Army veteran, manages to humanise completely a people who up until now have usually been cast as robotic fanatics" -- Sunday Times "Unputdownable... This book should be required reading for anyone in American politics or policy-making. It should win the Pulitzer Prize, but it won't. It's too gripping for that" -- Guardianshow more

About Bao Ninh

Bao Ninh was born in Hanoi in 1952. During the Vietnam war he served with the Glorious 27th Youth Brigade. Of the five hundred who went to war with the brigade in 1969, he is one of ten who survived. A huge bestseller in Vietnam, The Sorrow of War is his first more

Rating details

3,348 ratings
3.97 out of 5 stars
5 33% (1,107)
4 40% (1,342)
3 20% (669)
2 5% (172)
1 2% (58)
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