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A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

3.96  ·  Rating Details  ·  5,715 Ratings  ·  380 Reviews
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
"A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain" is Robert Olen Butler's Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of lyrical and poignant stories about the aftermath of the Vietnam War and its enduring impact on the Vietnamese. Written in a soaring prose, Butler's haunting and powerful stories blend Vietnamese folklore and contemporary American realities, creati
ebook, 288 pages
Published March 1st 2012 by Grove Press (first published 1992)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Robert Olen Butler served in Vietnam 1969 to 1971 - first as a counter-intelligence agent, and then as a translator. In an interview he remembers the time he spent in the country:

The army got me coming out of the University of Iowa, but they sent me to language school for a year before I went over. I spoke fluently from my first day there. And then I did work in intelligence for five months out in the countryside. I loved Vietnam and I loved the culture and I loved the people, I mean instantly.
Even as the light purple hues of dusk shifted into night, I sat still, completing this book. Never mind that the only reading light I had was the dim glare of outdoor lighting because by then, I was transfixed. I had been transported to another world and I only realized this once those gigantic Southern bugs started to land on my page and I heard the faint whimper of my dog as she stared at me through the sliding glass doors—probably wondering what in the world I was doing sitting outdoors witho ...more
Jenny Zhang
Apr 02, 2007 Jenny Zhang rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Writing in mock broken English from the perspective of a naive Vietnamese prostitute with perky tits is so fucking stupid, but it still gets you a Pulitzer. This book makes me want to beat up my friends.
Scott Axsom
Jul 06, 2015 Scott Axsom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
First let me say, “Damn you Robert Olen Butler. Damn you to hell.” Because now any book I pick up next can only pale by comparison to this exquisitely beautiful story collection. A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain is a Pulitzer-winning compilation of stories primarily about the Vietnamese diaspora, with the majority of the stories written from the perspective of immigrants living in and around New Orleans.

I am at a loss to adequately describe the poignance of Butler’s prose in this collection.
Nov 30, 2015 Sheri rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
So, I didn't realize this was a book of short stories until I started it. I knew it was a Pulitzer Price winner and that was enough to make me grab it. Short stories are not my favorites (I prefer a long book in which I can wallow) and sort of automatically come with a max of 4 stars. In general it was an okay collection and I learned a bit about Vietnamese culture, but the stories were not sufficiently different or interesting enough to garner 4 stars.

The stories are all about Vietnamese immigr
Tyler Jones
Aug 29, 2012 Tyler Jones rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Back in my book selling days, Robert Olen Butler's Tabloid Dreams was, shortly after it came out, THE book all the cool kids working in bookstores were recommending to anyone who cared for a recommendation from a kid in a bookstore. I got caught up in the Tabloid Dreams hysteria that gripped my circle of co-workers for three weeks back in 1996, forcing countless unsuspecting Calgarians to buy the collection of short stories. What's that Ma'am? You like Maeve Binchy? Why then you will adore Tablo ...more
Nov 28, 2012 Emily rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I think white people need to stop telling non-white peoples' stories. It just reeks of uncomfortable colonialism. The short story where Butler writes his character as a cheap, two-bit Vietnamese hooker with the awkward stereotypical English one might expect from a recent war victim is just too pathetic for me to swallow. Some nice sentences here and there, but generally a flop.
Jan 24, 2011 Tara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There's a reason this won the Pulitzer. While a few of the stories read more like retellings of myths, they are still so unique and melodic that I give this a 5. One of my favorite story collections.
May 27, 2009 Johnplavelle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In THE THINGS THEY CARRIED by Tim O'Brien he has a short story about the young enemy soldier that he killed by throwing a hand grenade at him. In Olen Butler's A GOOD SCENT FROM A STRANGE MOUNTAIN, there is "Salem" the short story of a Vietnamese soldier that keeps a pack of Salem cigarettes that he recovered from a dead American soldier that he had killed. He is troubled because the government wants him to return all of the items that could be used to identify the dead Americans. Ho Chi Minh sm ...more
Mar 30, 2010 Jesse rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: quit
a white guy writing vietnamese stories in choppy language as if it were written by a non-english speaker. nobody thinks in language this choppy, and though ESL speakers might not speak as eloquently in English, it doesn't mean their thoughts are disorganized and choppy. it was also just boring and it felt like a chore to read. i quit part way through.
Nov 01, 2012 Mmars rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’m really torn over whether this book deserved a Pulitzer for several reasons. First, several of these stories are stunning and do what great short stories do. They set you up and spin you through a slice of life at a discombobulating pace then leave you pinned at some unanticipated place. Like playing pin the tail on the donkey. However, I found one or two to be good, but not great. Thus four stars….(the expectations are high for a Pulitzer Prize winner.)

The stories were interesting and fueled
Oct 03, 2011 Christie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pulitzer
I feel bad giving this book only one star since it won the Pulitzer, but I did not like this book at all. It's a collection of short stories about Vietnamese immigrants in America. The dust jacket promised "lyrical" but delivered "short and choppy" instead. The stories could be revealing about the Vietnamese immigrant's experience in America, but the writing style is off-putting and frankly, doesn't make much sense to me. Even if the stories are from a Vietnamese person's point of view, and even ...more
Kenton Yee
Jan 16, 2016 Kenton Yee rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Robert Olen Butler inhabits his POV characters so masterfully that there are no weak stories in this collection. Indeed, each of these stories is another example of how to structure and present a short story. The progression of point-of-view characters, from hookers and strippers to Americanized middle-class Vietnamese immigrants in Louisiana to the white American deserter assimilated in a rural Vietnamese village, works well together and immerses us in a reading experience that exceeds the sum ...more
Stephen Gallup
Nov 04, 2010 Stephen Gallup rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I bought and read this book when it first came out, back in '92, inspired to find it after hearing a radio commentary. At the time, I had just returned from a life-changing stay in Taiwan and was fascinated by all things Asian. Thought of it again this week while reading The Unwanted .

This is a collection of stories told from the points of view of various Vietnamese expatriates at various stages in the process of becoming assimilated into American culture. The author has a remarkable ability to
Joshua Rigsby
Apr 16, 2015 Joshua Rigsby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a unique short story anthology, as all the characters are connected, however tangentially, to the Vietnamese expatriate community near New Orleans. Most of these stories are good, and some of them are very good. There were only a couple bad apples, and even those were bearable. Dramatic, surprising, funny, they run the gamut.

I had the sense throughout that Butler knew these characters and their culture very well. The amount of detail and specificity seemed to come from someone who had kn
Jan 10, 2008 Tung rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
Like all on this site, I'm a voracious reader. In my lifetime I've read thousands of books, including many of the great classics of literature. This book is my absolute favorite book of all time. The first time I read this book, I did it in a sitting. And then I proceeded to read it twice more in a 48 hour span. The prose is first-rate, with imageries that jump off the page. Butler weaves themes and phrases from one part of a story throughout the rest of the story to perfection. This book makes ...more
Aug 11, 2010 Tuckova rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pulitzer
I forgot that I finished this finally. I didn't throw it, but I definitely didn't like it very much. I think that writers CAN write from other points of view (just like readers can read and understand different points of view than their own) but all but one narrator rang false; what I heard behind the "Vietnamese" voice was always a white guy, probably from the midwest, who maybe went to Vietnam for a while. I can hear him working on it. Oddly, the story that had the strongest and most-likely-to ...more
Ananya Ghosh
I have found that I love short stories, and so I picked this book up as it seemed very promising. The Pulitzer plus the insight into Vietnamese culture that I expected it to provide, and the book did deliver.
The book contains short stories, mainly about characters who have migrated to the US after the Vietnamese war and talks about their problems of assimilation, their own culture and its contrast with the American culture and so much more.
The best thing I found about this book was that the au
Nov 13, 2008 Ron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Some of the most beautiful stories I've ever read. You MUST read this one!
Jan 13, 2011 Mary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club, 2011
This was my book club's selection for the month, and - to be honest - I wasn't exactly thrilled at the prospect of reading it. I don't have much of an interest in short story collections or the Vietnam War, so this anthology didn't hold much appeal.


The reason I joined the club is to experience new and varied reads, and this book didn't disappoint in those categories. I found that I really enjoyed the short story format - it was easy to read a story or two during a sitting and not worry a
Jo Deurbrouck
May 10, 2012 Jo Deurbrouck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is more a collection of voices than of stories. Compelling, thoughtful, well-meaning, sometimes wise voices, trying to make sense out of life, humanity, nationalism, being Vietnamese, being old, living with war, and trying to love through all the complexities of being human.

I didn't read the book. By happy accident I listened to it. I'd sure recommend the experience. Hearing this collection of voices made the journeys they described and their earnest attempts to understand themselves and t
Nov 23, 2007 Laura rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pulitzer
So, I actually really liked a lot of these stories, but this book bothered me because all the stories are narrated by Vietnamese or Vietnamese Americans and the author is white. I mean, no one should be confined to only write from the perspective of their race/gender, but I can't really get over this one. I've read other books that do the same thing and haven't though twice about it (although maybe I should have thought twice), but this collection of stories is particularly troubling to me.

Jan 17, 2016 Malcolm rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Winner of a Pulitzer in 1993, this collection of short stories depicts the lives and experiences of Vietnamese immigrants living in south Louisiana.
Some better than others, but all shed light on what happens to people when they must (or choose to) leave their homes of birth to begin new lives in a culture seemingly far different than their own.
But while these stories show the clash of cultures and the choices that often must be made between them, I was most struck by the things that transcen
Sep 07, 2011 Sheabody rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Literature. I read it once many years ago, shortly after it came out. This was the book I always wanted to write. Perhaps it is not too late for me. It is a collection of short stories about the Vietnamese refugees in Louisiana. The author, Robert Olen Butler, is an American veteran of the Vietnam war who became a professor of creative writing at a State University in Louisiana. He writes with honesty, sensitivity, and poignancy about his subjects. He ha ...more
Oct 18, 2011 Judy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. The author received a Pulitzer Prize for it in 1996 (I believe). He interviewed Vietnamese immigrants who settled in southern Louisiana after the war and used their stories to develop the short stories in this book. I enjoyed learning about the culture as well as how some have assimilated in the American culture. Some of the stories are really delightful and all are thought provoking. I would suggest that you skip the first two stories, which include some animal cruelty and co ...more
May 05, 2016 Renata rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved the stories in this book and they have stayed with me over the years. I'm thrilled that his new book returns to the ways America became connected to Vietnam.
Karen Larson
Apr 03, 2016 Karen Larson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This category was eye-opening in two ways: 1) I actually liked all (but one) of these short stories, and that is a first, and 2) I am definitely a book snob. To begin with point one, I was shocked that I liked this book so much. I judged the book by its cover and its title, all things that I like, but none of which really relate to any of the stories (except for the one I didn’t like, which is the title essay). The author seemed to intrinsically understand the different struggles of Vietnamese i ...more
Jul 26, 2015 Peggy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: vietnam

A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain: Stories
Robert Olen Butler
I have been wanting to read Good Scent for a long time. I search for fiction that analyzes the Viet Nam War, and this title comes up with top recommendations. Of course, it is also a Pulitzer winner. What held me back is that is a collection of short stories. I was skeptical that stories could really delve into the Viet Nam experience. And my previous encounters with short stories have left me disappointed. Stories have a tend
Sandy Jiang
Eh when I saw that it was a collection of short stories I was already wary. I feel that no book should have more than 5-6 short stories. After like 8 you run outta steam b/c while the stories are all different, the styles are the same. You feel like you had too many closed endings and repetitive messages even though yes each story tells a different perspective as to how the Vietnam affected the characters. I thought American Couple had gotten painful to read by the time it was at the end b/c it ...more
Nov 07, 2012 Mary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Robert Olen Butler's achievement in this collection of short stories is paralleled only by Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. Butler won the Pulitzer in 1993 for the glory of these stories that take us where no one could have imagined and return us changed for all time. If you have not read this book, you have not yet fully discovered the power, the force, the extraordinary weight of the Vietnam War. Butler lightens that weight with unforgettable insight.
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“I’ll never stop believing it: Robert Olen Butler is the best living American writer, period.”
– Jeff Guinn, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Robert Olen Butler has published eleven novels which includes The Alleys of Eden, Sun Dogs, Countrymen of Bones, On Distant Ground, Wabash, The Deuce, They Whisper, The Deep Green Sea, Mr. Spaceman, Fair Warning, and Hell, as well as five volumes of short fiction; Tab
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“I can speak these words and perhaps you can see these things clearly because you are using your imagination. But I cannot imagine these things because I lived them, and to remember them with the vividness I know they should have is impossible. They are lost to me.” 1 likes
“They are in the shapes of dragons and unicorns and stars and boats and horses and hares and toads. We light candles inside them and we swing them on sticks in the dark and the village is full of these wonderful pinwheels of light, the rushing of these bright shapes.” 0 likes
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