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The Sorrow of War

3.97  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,965 Ratings  ·  276 Reviews
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 Nin
Paperback, 217 pages
Published 1998 by Vintage Classics (first published 1987)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Steve Woods
Apr 06, 2016 Steve Woods rated it it was amazing
Shelves: vietnam-war, ptsd, in-hand
This is a book that every veteran who saw combat in Vietnam should read. It gives the other side and points up so poignantly the universal suffering of all soldiers. It helped me to come to an understanding that none of the anger and resentment I feel about my service in Indochina had anything to do with those we called the enemy but towards those who put us where we were;who trained us to fight and steel our hearts towards those who were always referred to as "gooks, dinks, or nogs";those who c ...more
Ben Jaques
Jul 02, 2012 Ben Jaques rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes when you read a book in translation, it's hard to tell who to congratulate on a job well done. Is it the author or the translator? In the case of the Sorrow of War, the credit most certainly goes to the author, Bao Ninh. It is amazing that this book can be some horrifying and heart-wrenching through such a poor translation. When I was in Vietnam in 2001, I saw the author speak about this book to our class. he was quiet and soft-spoken. He wasn't exactly popular with the Vietnamese gove ...more
Steve Kettmann
Apr 29, 2010 Steve Kettmann rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-read-2010
As the title makes clear, this is not a book you can read without some real emotional work; Bao Ninh, pen name of a North Vietnamese veteran, barely mentions the invading Americans, except in a few searing passages that come through with a cinematic calm and vividness. His overall subject is what war does to the people who fight it, and the novel is in part about the writing of the novel, the kind of approach that usually fails, at least in my estimation, but here works oddly well. It helps to e ...more
Courtney Lindwall
Mar 20, 2010 Courtney Lindwall rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: War Buffs?
Recommended to Courtney by: Required
Shelves: required, 2010
My main problem with this book, besides the general lack of character development and plot, is that its overall theme seems overdone.

The novel follows the story of a North Vietnamese soldier that loses love and faces the hardships of a physical, but also emotional war. Now, it might have been the fact that I had read Things They Carried and Red Badge of Courage only months before, but writing a story about the idea that war causes "emotional struggles" is not new. It is no longer controversia
Quang Khuê
Oct 07, 2012 Quang Khuê rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: vietnamese, novels, war
Những con người này, theo mình, dù chiến tranh hay không họ cũng đều buồn như vậy thôi. Song cái buồn đó lại ở một kiểu khác. Có thể nó sẽ không ác liệt, cay đắng và tăm tối hơn, cũng không viết thành sách được. Nhưng buồn thì vẫn là buồn, thời nào thì cũng có những nỗi buồn, đại loại vậy.
Tùng Nguyễn
Jul 09, 2016 Tùng Nguyễn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: vietnam-pre-90s
Cuốn sách được tạo dựng thông qua những mẩu viết đan cài giữa thực tại và hồi ức của Kiên, một người lính may mắn sống sót qua cuộc chiến tranh vệ quốc, hay nội chiến hai mươi năm của dân tộc Việt Nam. Trong khi tất cả những người đồng đội của anh đều đã ngã xuống, đôi khi để anh được sống, chỉ mình anh bước qua khỏi cuộc chiến tranh ấy với sự cô đơn và hoài nhớ kỳ cùng về những ngày tháng bom đạn và mối tình với một người con gái, người bạn thân từ thuở bé, người hàng xóm sát vách - Phương.

William Graney
Aug 31, 2008 William Graney rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The first half of this book read like an opium dream. The battles and the imagery from the Jungle of the Screaming Souls presented me with a very different perspective of the North Vietnamense soldier than what I thought it would be.
In fact, my view of just about everything I thought I knew about North Vietnam from the mid-60's to the mid-70's was altered by this book.
In the second half of the book there is a lot more focus on the main character (Kien) and his childhood sweetheart Phuong. Every
This was my first time reading anything from the vast oeuvre of Vietnamese literature, so I can't compare it to a canon Bao was probably inspired by. What I can compare it to is the range of American stories and movies concerning that vicious land war that slashed three nations to ribbons. The parallels to the Deer Hunter are striking, really.

He writes in an intimately personal, rather modernist idiom that has largely been forgotten by Anglo-American writers. Rather than rely on linear nattive,
James Langer
At the end of the text, the author writes, “Many would say this was a disruption of the plot, a disconnection, a loss of perspective. They’d say this style proved the writer’s inherent weakness: his spirit was willing but his flesh wasn’t.” (Ninh 230) The novel reads like memories scattered on pages; like diary pages ripped out, shuffled, and sewn together into a story. It has been said that art is either revolution or plagiarism. Bao Ninh certainly takes risk with his writing style, eliminating ...more
Mar 24, 2013 Elaine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a powerful novel about the war in Viet Nam written by a soldier from North Viet Nam. In some ways, it resonates with the powerful novels about the war written by American GIs -- traumatic flashbacks, PTSD, desperate solutions through alcohol and rage -- but, of course, it is profoundly different because the war takes place in his homeland and affects his family, his lover, the land and everyone around him so deeply. The main character, Kien, is also writing a novel about his war experien ...more
Mar 11, 2012 Dan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
as fascinating as this novel is, i can't help feeling a bit disappointed with it now that i'm finished. to my western eyes, it's pretty unique - a diaristic, plot-less account of a north vietnamese soldier's hardships during a war i'm well-versed in seeing from the opposite perspective. i'm a bit ashamed to admit this, but i don't think i've ever read a vietnamese novel before, so the fact that a few areas didn't resonate with me may reflect my own ignorance about the culture the novel comes fro ...more
Chiến tranh đã gần như hủy hoại sự trong trắng của cả một thế hệ Việt Nam, nhưng tàn ác đến đâu, nó không thể hoàn toàn giết chiết tâm hồn con người luôn khát khao tình yêu và nuôi niềm hy vọng.. Bảo Ninh truyền vào trái tim người đọc tình yêu và nỗi buồn chiến tranh đó, nỗi buồn bất tận, "truyền kiếp", gợi nhớ về một khía cạnh đau đớn của một quá khứ bi tráng tưởng như đã bị lãng quên nhưng thực ra còn thổn thức, âm vang mãi, trong hiện tại và cả tương lai.
This novel of the Vietnam War is interesting for its graphic depictions of the war as it really was for the North Vietnamese soldiers, a civil war between North and South with the Americans an anonymous mass threatening from a distance but rarely the focus. Ninh's writing leaps around in time without any attempt to coherently link events for the reader which gives a fantastic insight into the mind of a soldier destroyed by war, but also makes this a difficult book to understand. Perhaps that is ...more
Nov 01, 2012 Joey rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
FINALLY finished this book! It started out really great but it grew increasingly confusing and boring and also I read this for school and I have a teacher who expects extremely thorough annotations so it was basically a torture to go through this book because I had to force myself to slave through it and jot down seemingly meaningful notes in the small margins and it quite possibly took me more than 24 hours straight to annotate the entire book because I remember slaving away for 4 hours each on ...more
Apr 09, 2011 Kit rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While traveling in Vietnam, I was informed that the Vietnamese refer to 'the Vietnam War' as 'the American War.' I think it's easy to lose track of the fact that there are two sides to every conflict. Without getting into the politics of whether war is ever justified, this book is a reminder of the damage done to the ordinary people who get caught up in it. But Ninh's book is a whole lot more than a cautionary tale about the effects of war. It's a dreamy, poetic recounting of youth and love and ...more
Jul 16, 2016 Calzean rated it really liked it
A rare insight into the mind of a North Vietnam soldier. He seemed driven by a duty to be a good soldier, a mate but realistic that they were fighting a more well equipped enemy so life was likely to be short. There was no ideology driven mantra. His experiences in the war were brutal and after the war he struggles with his experiences, of lives lost and finding a future. Interesting that the returned soldiers received the same disinterested reception as their American and allies received.
The bo
Mai Nguyen
Mar 03, 2015 Mai Nguyen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
Chẳng biết phải nói gì bởi đọc xong cứ ngẩn ngơ. Đã từng đọc một số tiểu thuyết về chiến tranh Việt Nam nhưng Nỗi buồn chiến tranh là tác phẩm hết sức chân thật về những mặt trái, về những cuộc đời gai góc đằng sau cuộc chiến ấy.
Jul 10, 2016 Nandes rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
La innocència trencada per la guerra, un passat que mai tornarà, una pau espiritualment buida. Viure dels records dolços i també dolorosos, i només poder gestionar les emocions escrivint sobre unes vivències dures i terribles.

Aquest és el llegat de la guerra de Vietnam a Kien, protagonista d'aquest llibre. Una obra que emocionalment i històricament ha estat molt important, basada en les experiències del propi autor.

M'ha agradat però, tot i això, no he acabat de fluir per les seves pàgines tant
Jun 11, 2015 Madscientistavenger rated it liked it
A very deep and meaningful book, the Sorrow of War isn't a light read and one that requires a lot of thought. The structure of the story itself, out of chronological order, is very confusing and sometimes took my interest away from the actual storyline as I tried to figure out where in time we were, but what is interesting is that the author explains (sort of) why he wrote it like this. Because it's a novel for IB English, it's naturally depressing but it was still a good book by itself, althoug ...more
Apr 04, 2015 Chuối rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thật ra khi tôi đến với quyển sách này tôi mong chờ một kiểu buồn khác. Nhưng Bảo Ninh đã mang đến một nỗi buồn kinh khủng hơn tôi tưởng tượng, một nỗi buồn mà tôi cảm tưởng được chiến tranh làm lan ra khắp con người của nhân vật Kiên và làm anh ý thức được sự dằn vặt quằn quại đó.

Nửa già cuốn tiểu thuyết như lời kể của một người hút thuốc phiện, rất nhập nhằng, miên man. Lúc trở về quá khứ, lúc trở về thực tại. Nhưng nửa sau có những điều bí ẩn được lí giải, biến tấu trở nên nhanh hơn như một h
Feb 12, 2015 Judith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I registered a book at!

How many stories have we seen about the Vietnam war? How many feature the North Vietnamese? This is the first I've seen.

It's fiction but I suspect a great deal is based on the author's experience. He was with the 27th Glorious Youth Brigade, which numbered 500 at the start. He was one of ten who survived.

The protagonist is Kien, a young man who joins the army at the beginning of the war and who survives attack
Sea-May Knot
May 15, 2014 Sea-May Knot rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I learnt a lot from this book. It's a war story and a love story. A story about ghosts and a story about stories. I am assured it's the first Vietnamese novel to deal with the horrors of war, rather than the valour.
There are passages where I read through my fingers, so painful were the descriptions. It's deeply sad but it's not sentimental or political in the narrow sense. People's relationships are never simple but often symbolic.
Structurally complex, it's weaves the reader into the fragmente
Apr 19, 2009 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is structured around a protagonist Kien and his attempt - through writing a novel after the war - to rid himself of his memories of the war and of his relationship with Phuong, his childhood sweetheart, and its gradual disintegration during and after the war.

Probably the overwhelming response of American readers to this book is that it humanizes the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War: and thank god. The most common explanation for North Vietnam's victory is that the North Vietnamese we
May 23, 2010 Mike rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As you learn from the jacket, the author of this book was among the 10 survivors of the brigade of 500 soldiers he joined in 1969. So you know right away that this is not going to be an easy book to read, and it's not. It's difficult to read because the most horrible death and destruction stalks every page. But it's also literally hard to read, because it pretty much breaks all the rules of story-telling. There are no chapters, and little structure. It reads pretty much like a dream (a nightmare ...more
James Hicks
Feb 23, 2008 James Hicks rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An amazing book, especially for people interested in the history of the US war with Vietnam. This is a personal first-person account told from the point-of-view of a Vietnamese foot soldier (the author draws upon his experience as a Vietnamese foot soldier). It is not propaganda, nor is it US-bashing. It is a riveting fictional account of the peculiar specificities of that particular tradgedy of war. It is readable, if "gut-wrenching". It offers another view of that war, which Americans often on ...more
Once again, read it for work, to teach to the high schoolers. I'm glad I did -- I wouldn't have known this book existed otherwise. I liked reading the "other" perspective, that of North Vietnam, especially because, of course, the book is about the horrors of war and its aftermath, which is more universal than sided, I think. This is not a political novel; it's a sort of love story and coming-of-age-in-war story, but it's told in such a strange order and with a meditative feel that you're not rea ...more
Oct 22, 2013 mentor&muse rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After ten years of fighting as a North Vietnamese soldier, protagonist Kien is writing—as is the author, Bao Ninh—to exorcise the war and to comprehend the incomprehensible: life; death. The Sorrow of War is a meditation, a map of memory superimposed over a map of Vietnam.

Kien describes himself as having taken a U-turn after the war. What he sees before him is not the future, but “spreading before him are the past forty years” compelling him “to march forever along the road of the past.”

“Who e
Oct 21, 2012 sm786 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had to read this book for school and I went through different phases with it.

Phase 1: This Sucks

You cannot read this book in parts. It will feel like a jumble of pointlessness. I only truly got into the book after the first 100 pages and ever after that it wasn't like I couldn't put it down or anything.

Phase 2: I feel like I'm going to cry but no tears come out

This probably has to do most with the point of view. To me, it felt like there was no plot. I couldn't really empathize with the narr
Mike Bull
Dec 03, 2012 Mike Bull rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Comparable in some ways to All Quiet on the Western Front, rather than build up a plot, this book layers the reader's understanding of the soldier, Kien, before, during and after the Vietnam war, along with his teenage sweetheart Phuong. There are glimpses of the horror of war, the tormented mind afterwards of a veteran, told through snatches of stark, honest prose, where the enemy is not so much fighters on the other side of the battle, but war itself, and its swathe of destruction on a generat ...more
I really wanted to love this book as I needed something from the NVA perspective for my Vietnam Era class.
There were parts in which I will have my class read to show them that the story of the NVA could be of any soldier-in the end the human side of war makes us all the same, no matter which side we are on.
It did show the struggle of the NVA-the length of their war, the suffering, the way life was for them upon their return.
The story of this returning soldier and his struggles with
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"Bảo Ninh (born on October 18, 1952) is a Vietnamese novelist and short story writer.

His real name is Hoàng Ấu Phương and he was born in Nghệ An province (his ancestors were from Quảng Bình province), Vietnam. 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."

(From Wikipedia)
More about Bảo Ninh...

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“The sorrow of war inside a soldier's heart was in a strange way similar to the sorrow of love. It was a kind of nostalgia, like the immense sadness of a world at dusk. It was a daness, a missing, a pain which could send one soaring back into the past. The sorrow of the battlefield could not normally be pinpointed to one particular event, or even one person. If you focused on any one event it would soon become a tearing pain.” 9 likes
“I envied his inspiration, his optimism in focusing back on the painful but glorious days. They were caring days, when we knew what we were living and fighting for and why we needed to suffer and sacrifice.
Those were the days when all of us were young, very pure and very sincere.”
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