The Sorrow of War: A Novel
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The Sorrow of War: A Novel

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  1,981 ratings  ·  184 reviews
"All Quiet on the Western Front for our era."
New Statesman

During the Vietnam War Bao Ninh served with the Glorious 27th Youth Brigade. Of the five hundred men who went to war with the brigade in 1969, he is one of only ten who survived. The Sorrow of War is his autobiographical novel. Kien works in a unit that recovers soldiers' corpses. Revisiting the sites of battles r...more
Paperback, 217 pages
Published 1998 by Vintage Classics (first published 1987)
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Steve Woods
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
Steve Kettmann
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 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: War Buffs?
Recommended to Courtney by: Required
Shelves: 2010, required
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...more
Ben Jaques
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
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
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
Quang Khuê
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.
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...more
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
Tùng Nguyễn
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 một mối tình với người con gái, người bạn thân từ thuở bé, người hàng xóm sát vách - Phương.

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...more
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
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
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
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...more
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...more
Mike Bull
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...more
Brian Wadman

A personal account of how the Vietnam/American war affected the Vietnamese author living in post-war Hanoi. Sad and depressing – the author is trying to come to terms with his life, his choices, his regrets.

There is a lot of lament, woe, and self-pity… And a distorted perception of life in which every male character possesses and over-abundance of carnal lust. Young ladies be prepared.

As other reviewers have mentioned it is hard to follow the story because he jumps around from different peri...more
Since it's written by a North Vietnamese Army veteran, this book is a chance to glimpse the other side of the Vietnam War and see our old enemies in a more human light--not simply as cannon fodder for 80's action movies. This is a passionate, disturbing book written in the tone of somebody who is utterly shell-shocked, thereby giving the narrative an almost dream-like quality which makes the atrocities of the story seem rather otherworldly and unreal. My one problem with the novel, though, is it...more
Patrick McCoy
When I read Anthony Bourdrain’s A Cook’s Tour, he mentioned that he got a copy of Bao Nihn’s war novel, The Sorrow of War, and consumed it in an afternoon at the beach while visiting Vietnam. So I decided to see what it was about. It’s a short, but powerful novel that illustrates the destructive nature of war. It’s not always the battle itself, but the situations people find themselves in because of the war. The loss of innocence, unruly behavior of humans in general, the break up of families an...more
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,...more
Matt Bizzell
The amount of are emotion pushed into this novel is heart-breaking. The author strips away the polished facade of Communist propoganda and gives the reader an unabashed view of the soldiers fighting in a troubled war. The story is told through short stories and brief images seemingly put together at random, and does this to heighten the experience, to live through the thoughts of the character.
I really enjoyed the book for what it was, gritty and shameless look at the war from a North Vietname...more
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
Cayleigh-may Knot
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...more
Thủy Phan
Chiến tranh - trước đó, đối với tôi đó chỉ là một cuộc chiến giữa 2 phe và kết quả là một bên thắng, một bên thua. Nhưng rồi, khi giở từng trang sách, khi những sự thật, những vết đen của chiến tranh hiện ra, tôi cảm thấy thực sự kinh hoàng và thực sự buồn. Ra là vậy. Rốt cuộc thì trong chiến tranh, không bao giờ có cái gọi là win-win, cũng chẳng có win-lose vì đó chỉ là một sự tương đối mang tính tượng trưng. Lose-lose mới là những gì còn lại cho tất cả những ai đã từng trải qua cuộc chiến. Chẳ...more
Nick Barricella
Bảo Ninh

"The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam" by former Vietnamise soldir and author Bao Ninh is a war novel that is truly gripping. It is about a young Vietnamise soldier named Kien who learns firsthand that war is more than glory and celebration. Much more. He recounts his many years and the many that he has lost, including a heartbreaking story about his condmened love affair with his Highschool sweetheart. It perfectly portrays the humanity of the Northern Vietnamise soldiers, which...more
The Sorrow of War is a beautiful but very sad novel that examines the promises of the past and the aftermath of war. The story follows Kien, a former North Vietnamese soldier now rebuilding his life in postwar Hanoi.

When it was originally published in Vietnamese the title was The Destiny of Love, which explains why the central focus of the plot is on the love story between Kien and his childhood sweetheart Phuong. In many ways these two characters embody the opposing attitudes to war in North Vi...more
Apr 14, 2014 Rob added it
This is not a particular easy book to read construction-wise or content-wise.
It is not the kind of book one says that he or she "enjoyed reading" as it is a telling of a time
in one individual's life where around the age of 18 he leaves everything behind to go off and fight for his country.

Kien, the central character, recounts numerous events where his friends and comrades are wounded or killed. He crafts a vivid portrait of combat in jungles and rice paddies, where unlike his foes, they fought w...more
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Why I want to Read it 8 44 Aug 17, 2014 08:40PM  
  • Novel Without a Name
  • The Tale of Kieu: A bilingual edition of Nguyen Du's Truyen Kieu
  • Dumb Luck
  • A Vietcong Memoir: An Inside Account of the Vietnam War and Its Aftermath
  • Cánh đồng bất tận
  • Dế Mèn Phiêu Lưu Ký (Diary of a Cricket)
  • Vừa Nhắm Mắt Vừa Mở Cửa Sổ
  • The Cat From Hue: A Vietnam War Story
  • Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides
  • Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam
  • Monkey Bridge
  • The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family
  • When Heaven and Earth Changed Places: A Vietnamese Woman's Journey from War to Peace
  • Confederates
  • The Military Philosophers (A Dance to the Music of Time, #9)
  • The Vietnam Wars 1945-1990
  • The House on Dream Street: Memoir of an American Woman in Vietnam
  • Death of a Hero
"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...
Chuyện xưa kết đi, được chưa ? Trại Bảy Chú Lùn Tác phẩm chọn lọc Hà Nội Lúc Không Giờ Lan man trong lúc kẹt xe

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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.” 8 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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