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A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  7,540 ratings  ·  506 reviews
Robert Olen Butler's lyrical and poignant collection of stories about the aftermath of the Vietnam War and its impact on the Vietnamese was acclaimed by critics across the nation and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993.

Now Grove Press is proud to reissue this contemporary classic by one of America's most important living writers, in a new edition of 'A Good Scent from a Strang
Paperback, 269 pages
Published April 5th 2001 by Grove Press (first published 1992)
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3.96  · 
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 ·  7,540 ratings  ·  506 reviews

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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.
Nov 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Exemplary short story collection! Have not been moved this way since Jhumpa Lahiri's (also Pulitzer-winning) "Interpreter of Maladies."

CANNOT POSSIBLY be MISSED by any serious student of the Short Story or modern American literature. A late night top-notch Scotch... or an aroma that arrives at you with an intimate immediacy.
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
[2.5] About a third of the way through this collection, the stories started to irritate me. The writing felt like it was put through a strainer to become stiff and bland. I thought, "a bad translation." Of course, these are not translated stories. They are the stories of Vietnamese refugees, written in first person by Robert Olen Butler, a white American. I don't like the idea of putting narrow restrictions on a writer's imagination - why shouldn't Butler imagine these voices? And they were cert ...more
Jun 29, 2012 rated it it was ok
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.
Dec 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“I turned and looked and the old man was standing beside the car. My wife embraced him and his head was perched on her shoulder and there was nothing on his face at all, no feeling except perhaps the faintest wrinkling of puzzlement. Perhaps I should have stayed at my wife’s side as the old man went on to explain to her that she didn’t exist. But I could not. I wished to walk briskly away, far from this house, far from the old man and his granddaughter. I wished to walk as fast as I could, to r ...more
Scott Axsom
Jun 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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.
Sep 26, 2011 rated it did not like it
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
Mar 30, 2010 rated it did not like it
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 28, 2015 rated it liked it
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
Jul 01, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Jan 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Sharon Barrow Wilfong
Dec 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Robert Olen Butler served in Vietnam as Military Intelligence and as a translator during the war the in the sixties and part of the seventies. Fluent in Vietnamese, he said his favorite time was walking the back streets of Saigon and crouching in the doorways, getting to know a people that he considers to be some of the most warm-hearted and open people he has ever known.

A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain is a collection of short stories each from a different person's point of view. Some of th
Tyler Jones
Aug 29, 2012 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
Megha Chakraborty
Aug 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Worth your time, I love reading short stories and this book has excellent short stories with all the Vietnamese refugee as narrators. Its a book about war, home, cultures, and countries. The narration is the best part of this book, narration by housewives, businessmen, soldiers, and grandchildren.
The descriptions are perfect and evoke very definite mental pictures of the people and their distinct Vietnamese culture.

It shows the complexities of human emotion, also the way Mr. Roberts wrote from
Jan 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Even though this wasn't a pool read (book to read by the pool that doesn't matter if it gets wet and easy to pick up and get back in the groove after days away), it could have been, up til the last story. The first 13 stories were like potato chips and I couldn't gobble them down fast enough.

I checked this out after my husband read/bought it. I tend to dismiss Vietnam War books--too depressing, violent, mucho macho military men figures, and I'm getting a little burned out from WWII novels latel
May 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Susan Bleyle
Sep 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is an absolutely amazing collection of stories about the Vietnamese experience in the 20-year-aftermath (at the time this collection was published) of the Vietnam war. While most of the stories center around families who have resettled and rebuilt their lives in the United States after the war, there are also incredibly powerful stories from other perspectives--including the final, haunting story of an ex-American soldier, supposedly "MIA" for nearly twenty years, who has actually been buil ...more
Joshua Rigsby
Jan 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
May 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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.
Kenton Yee
Jan 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 02, 2007 rated it it was ok
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.

Stephen Gallup
Nov 04, 2010 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
Jan 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Susan (aka Just My Op)
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
A relief to have finished this. Despite my wanting to enjoy it, by the middle it felt like an obligation. Pushed through though, as it's a Pulitzer fiction winner and I've been working my way through them over last few years. Some nice writing here, but a lot of sameness to the stories.
Nov 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Some of the most beautiful stories I've ever read. You MUST read this one!
Claudia Putnam
Jul 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Masterful and enriching. I think all writers should work to write or at least think from the POV of the other in their fiction or memoir. Not necessarily anything as reachy as Marra's A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, which I didn't think quite came off, or say, refugees if you know none, but simply others you know or can't quite grasp. Butler is a Vietnam veteran, and here he writes from the POV of Vietnamese refugees, most of whom were from the Republic of Vietnam, some having fought for tha ...more
Daphyne Shimeall
Feb 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What a beautiful collection of stories. Butler captures the heart and soul of the Vietnamese. There is the Vietnamese/American daughter separated from her father, a Vietnamese father trying to impart his culture to his son born in America, a mother speaking to her unborn child, & a Saigon girl just looking for real love. Every one of these short stories captures the hopes and dreams and losses of war and displacement.
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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 sixteen novels—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, Hell, A Small Hotel, The Hot Country, The Star of Istanbul, The Empir
“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.” 2 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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