Fiction--Anderson to Butler
Vietnam has generated a tremendous amount of fiction. The annotated bibliography presented here contains as many books as possible from the global community, as well as fiction written from different perspectives.
While many of the novels described below were written immediately following the war, writers are still producing works of fiction today. Many of these newer works have been included in the bibliography. Descriptions of works have been adapted from product descriptions and reflect the explanation of the work by publishers. In some few cases, others contributors have been used, these have been appropriately identified.
Anderson, Kent. Sympathy for the Devil. (Bantam, reprint, 2000).
Censured by some critics for its brutality but heralded by others as a modern-day classic, Sympathy for the Devil is a terrifying, intoxicating journey through the violence, madness, and insane beauty of battle. It traces the story of a hardened Green Beret named Hanson, a college student who goes to war with a book of poetry of Yeats in his pocket and discovers the savagery within himself.
In the novel we follow Hanson through two tours of duty and a bitter attempt to live as a civilian in between. At one with the lush and dangerous world around him in Vietnam, Hanson is doomed to survive the landscape of devastation he encounters. Sympathy for the Devil contains some of the most vivid, finely etched prose ever written about the actual process of war—from firing a weapon for the first time in battle to the moment a young man knows that he has entered a living hell and found a home.
Anderson, Robert. Service for the Dead (Arbor House, 1986).
In this fascinating and sensitive war story, Marine private Mike Allison tries to make sense of his time in Vietnam. Lying in the hospital recovering from a wound and then heading home with his parents, Mike thinks back on his life in the squad, how good he felt on patrol, the terrible battles, and the other men- their friendship and camaraderie. Mike’s reflections reveal that the war has become the only thing he knows; nothing else is real. He is left with a survivor’s quilt, an empty future, and a horrible longing for the war.
Baber, Asa. Land of a Million Elephants (Morrow, 1970).
A novel of the American war in Laos by Playboy's "Men" columnist. Asa Baber draws on his Marine Corps service in Laos to make this fairy tale, complete with nuke-crazed generals, and gods who turn mushroom clouds into clouds of mushrooms. The intricate illustrations trace the comings and goings of a train of characters and elephants. (The Sixties Project)
Balaban, John. Coming Down Again (Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1985).
Set adrift in Southeast Asia in the wake of the Vietnam War, Steve Prescott battles with cancer, Paul Roberts with drugs, John Lacey with empty routine. Unexpectedly, they find themselves once again fighting for their lives in the lush, deadly jungle they had hoped to put behind them. [The author] brings to this tale of adventure an eye for the bizarre, gaudy richness of Southeast Asia, an ear for its many languages -- spoken and unspoken, human and inhuman—and a heart attuned to the torments of conscience. [The book] explores the legacy of Vietnam, its pain and loss and tangled loyalties. The first novel by this prize-winning poet.
Bao Ninh. The Sorrow of War ( Pantheon, 1995).
A novel addition to fiction from the Indochina conflict, this quasi-autobiographical story depicts a North Vietnamese infantryman trying to purge his grisly memories through writing. Sitting in his dingy Hanoi room, drinking day after day away, the central character, Kien, records in no set order his enlistment into the army, the bombing of his troop train, hellish firefights and napalming in the Central Highlands (an area superstitiously dubbed by Kien's comrades the "Jungle of the Screaming Souls"), his escape from an American patrol after the Tet offensive of '68, combat in Saigon's fall in '75, and his memory-piquing work on a postwar MIA detail. Each chunk of experience jostles the other, an intentional echo of the writer's struggle to describe the chaotic, while simultaneously attempting to find his own authorial voice. Thus Bao Ninh's work is half about war. If there is a message, it is that a survivor's reconciliation with savage memory is impossible—perhaps not the most original idea in war novels, but one worth hearing from the ex-enemy. (Gilbert Taylor)
Barre, Richard. The Ghosts of Morning (Berkley Publishing Group, 1999).
Denny Van Zant was Wil Hardesty's best friend. Together they surfed, drank, and brawled their youth away. Then came the day Denny was accused of murder. Some said he did it. Some said he didn't. He was never quite charged. Then came Vietnam, and years later Wil saw what had been identified as his best friend buried at a military funeral. Now, decades later, Wil receives a call from Danny's mother, a voice that brings painful memories flooding back. She thinks Denny is still alive. Her evidence is sketchy, but it's a place to start. And once started, Wil won't be able to stop until he's sure Denny is alive—or both of them are dead.
Berent, Mark. Steel Tiger (Berkley Publishing Group, 1990).
This second novel in this bestselling series by Vietnam veteran Berent that began with Rolling Thunder focuses on the air war over Vietnam and the men and women who fought in it.
Berent, Mark. Rolling Thunder (Jove Publishing, 1989)
Mark Berent's remarkable military background—20 years in the Air Force and 1,000 hours flying combat missions—enables him to capture the intensity of themost controversial war in modern history, the Vietnam War, in this incredibly authentic novel. "Terrific—a novel of exceptional authenticity that hits like a thunderclap". (W.E.B. Griffin, author of Brotherhood of War)
Bodey, Donald. F.N.G. (Viking, 1985).
A first person chronicle of Gabriel Sauer’s tour of duty. A very graphic, earthy view of life in the trenches. Gabe sees one of his comrades killed less than eight hours after their arrival in the jungle. Things go downhill from there, as he moves from landing zone to landing zone and from Effengee to short-timer. Gabe discusses all aspects of the war, from his physical problems to his squads’ reactions to inappropriate assignments from superior officers.
Brown, Larry. Dirty Work. (Algonquin Books, 1989).
Braiden Chaney has no arms or legs. Walter James has no face. They lost them in Vietnam, along with other, more vital parts of themselves. Now, 22 years later, these two Mississippians—one black, the other white—lie in adjoining beds in a V.A. hospital. In the course of one long night they tell each other how they came to be what they are and what they can only dream of becoming. Their stories, recounted in voices as distinct and indelible as those of Faulkner, add up to the story of the war itself, and make Dirty Work the most devastating novel of its kind since Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun.
Bunch, Chris and Allan Cole. A Reckoning for Kings: A Novel of the Tet Offensive (Atheneum, 1987).
This is a hard-hitting saga of the Tet Offensive—North Vietnam's all-out attempt to win the war in 1968. It contains an enormous cast of characters including Major Dennis Shannon—a leader any soldier would follow to hell and back; Mosby, who would be recommended for the Medal of Honor for his actions during Tet; North Vietnamese General Vo Le Duan who knows that he will never achieve the glory he desires; and the mysterious Miss Tram, a spy more deadly than any frontline soldier. Its compelling plot is enhanced by the authors' intimate knowledge of the land and people of Vietnam. The result is a gripping, fast-paced story that brings the horror as well as the nobility of war to life.
Busby, Mark. Fort Benning Blue (Texas Christian University Press, 2001).
If you've never even been to Southeast Asia, can you be a Vietnam veteran? In a novel that captures the life and times of a generation, Mark Busby takes us on a journey through an era of hippies, the shootings at Kent State University, integration, and Woodstock. Fort Benning Blues tells the story of Vietnam from this side of the ocean.
Butler, Robert Olen. A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain (Grove Press, 2001).
No American author has captured the experiences of the Vietnamese themselves—and caught their voices—more tellingly than Robert Olen Butler, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain. The 15 collected stores, 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 truth is what makes this a collection for the ages. (Amazon.com review)
Butler, Robert Olen. The Deep Green Sea (Henry Holt, 1998).
In The Deep Green Sea, Robert Olen Butler has created a memorable and incandescent love story between Tien, a contemporary Vietnamese woman orphaned at the end of the war in 1975, and Ben, a Vietnam veteran who returns from America to a war-torn land, seeking closure and a measure of peace. Bit by bit they learn more of each other's pasts. Secrets are revealed: Ben's love affair with a Vietnamese prostitute in 1966; Tien's mixed racial heritage and her abandonment by her bar-girl mother, who feared retribution from the North Vietnamese for having given birth to one of the hated "children of dust." In Butler's hands, what follows conjures the stuff of classical tragedy and also achieves a classic reconciliation of once-warring cultures. Infused equally with eroticism and with Butler's deep and abiding reverence for Vietnamese myth and history, The Deep Green Sea is a landmark work in the literature of love and war.
Butler, Robert Olen.On Distant Ground. (Knopf, 1985).
Robert Olen Butler's fiction which deals with the Viet Nam war era carries the reader into the social, political, military, ethical and moral chaos of the times, reflecting the divergent views of Americans and Vietnamese, but without making simplistic propaganda tools of his stories or characters.
In time of war, when soldiers are expected to destroy the enemy, humane behavior becomes a rare phenomenon. With On Distant Ground, Butler poses one man's search to understand himself and his reasons for humane behavior when customary responses to duty and to self-interest should have led him not to care about enemy prisoners or a possible child produced from a brief affair. Butler sets U.S. Army Captain David Fleming before a court martial, unable to interpret clearly why he had, in Viet Nam, gone to great lengths to find and set free a Viet Cong prisoner who had been sent to the South Vietnamese government prison on Con Son Island. Fleming's record showed no antigovernment or antiwar leanings prior to the incident. He was an exemplary officer in a military intelligence unit operating in the Saigon area.
Butler, Robert Olen.The Alleys of Eden (Horizon Press, 1981).
The tragic story of an army deserter and his Vietnamese girlfriend whose only sanctuary is a small back room in Saigon. Living in a back-alley room, a man and a woman are hiding from a dangerous past. Clifford Wilkes is the last American deserter left in Saigon; Lanh is a woman slowly recovering from a bitter life of prostitution among the foreign troops. The outside world now begins to threaten their love.