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A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain: Stories

3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  4,780 ratings  ·  315 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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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
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.
Jenny Zhang
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.
Tyler Jones
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
Stephen Gallup
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
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
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
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.
Some of the most beautiful stories I've ever read. You MUST read this one!
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
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.

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
Joshua Rigsby
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
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
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
Mayor McCheese
No finer short stories can or will be written by this race. There are many of equal quality; none greater. O'Connor and Borges and Carver and Tolstoy are no greater. The title is disturbingly close to the electrical brain activity you feel when you partake. Have you ever had chemotherapy or radiation and how they distort your sense of taste and smell until chocolate tastes like metal and everything else tastes like a refinery egg, and you eat salsa because at least you can feel the burn, and it' ...more
Beautifully haunting collection of stories. I've read a lot of Tim O'Brien's work, seeing the Vietnam war from the point of the American soldiers. This gave a really intriguing insight into the other side of the stories. I think I'm going to seek out similar collections. My one disappointment, I guess, is that this collection isn't written by a Vietnamese author. I wonder how different that would make the perspective.
I liked some of these stories immensely, but several blended together for me and weren't as memorable.
The 15 stories collected here, all written in the first person, blend Vietnamese folklore, the terrible, lingering memories of war, American pop culture and family drama. Butler's literary ventriloquism, as he mines the experiences of a people with a great literary tradition of their own, is uncanny; but his talents as a writer of universal truths is what makes this a collection for the ages.
This collection (the updated edition) is mostly anchored by its final four stories: "The American Couple"; "A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain"; and the two later additions, "Salem" and "Missing." I'm incredibly ambivalent about the book as a whole, as an act of cultural(ly appropriative?) ventriloquism, but it's hard to deny the sheer narrative power of its ending.
A very powerful read of short stories of Vietnamese people during and after the Vietnam war. No question why this was a Pulitzer Prize winner, the words in the stories flowed so beautifully. Not knowing much about Vietnamese culture I found it incredibly interesting. I usually crave more from short stories, but found harmony and completion in each one.
This is a wonderful collection of stories that reveal the thoughts and lives of the Vietnamese people in their struggle to not lose their cultural heritage as they survive in a new land. It’s funny, sad, heart-felt, passionate and powerful and demonstrates the commonalities of mankind as well as our differences.
This collection of short stories, of the Vietnamese affected by the war, is probably the best collection of short stories I have ever read. Most of the stories are about immigrants from Vietnam who have ended up in Louisiana. Some are set in Vietnam. All are beautiful.

Not all is sweetness and light, but the reader is shown the heart of the characters. There is darkness and some of the stories are disturbing, but all ring true. This 1993 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction felt so intimate to me th
It was OK, but seemed to be the same story over and over. Plus, I could never forget that it was a white man writing. Seemed false to me. I didn't finish - I became bored.
I stumbled on to this book in a used book store while on vacation in Chicago. The Vietnam/Louisiana connection is what caught me since I currently live in Laos, but lived in New Orleans for a time as well. I bought it for a dollar. Not only one of the best books I have read all year. One of the best books I have read period. Butler has a gift for tapping in to the human condition that we all share, regardless of place, and giving insight into a culture that is not his own. I will be thinking abo ...more
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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.” 0 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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