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Vietnamese Literature

These book reviews of Vietnamese literature highlight the diversity of writings by Vietnamese, Vietnamese-American and Americans on the Vietnamese experience in the United States and in Vietnam. Vietnamese literature ranges from poetry to novels, from humorous to poignant, and from historical to modern.

The Eaves of Heaven: A Life in Three Wars
By Andrew X. Pham
"Well known Vietnamese American author shares the story of his father's experiences in Vietnam through the French occupation and the Vietnam-American war. Pham's writing is lyrical and substantial, always thought provoking. Our review will be posted as soon as I have finished his book, but I am sure its quality is top notch."
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Crossing the River
By Nguyen Huy Thiep and Dana Sachs (editor)
"I would recommend this book to anyone interested in literature or who wishes a glimpse inside modern Vietnamese imagery. Nguyen Huy Thiep's work has had a deep impact on today's Vietnamese literature. In addition, his stories have been translated in French, German, Chinese, Japanese and English, and three have been made into films." (Allison Martin)
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The House on Dream Street
By Dana Sachs
"Have you ever felt the urge to leave your current life on hold and settle in Vietnam for a little while? Dana Sachs did just that. In 1989 while backpacking in Asia, Dana Sachs feel in love with Vietnam - a feeling that was to last a lifetime." (Allison Martin)
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Two Cakes Fit for a King: Folktales from Vietnam
by Nguyen Nguyet Cam and Dana Sachs (Editors)

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Fragrant Palm Leaves : Journals, 1962-1966
by Thich Nhat Hanh
"I'd like to suggest the book "Fragrant Palm Leaves" by Thich Nhat Hanh, the journals of that famous Vietnamese monk......he speaks of Vietnam in the way I feel it, warm, alive, green, amazing..." (Myla Stauber)
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The Sacred Willow : Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family
by Duong Van Mai Elliott
"Starred review in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist. The author is also Vietnamese American." (Linda Cochrane)
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The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
by Anne Fadiman
"I highly recommend this book. When a Hmong infant is diagnosed with epilepsy, her parents and her American doctors struggle over how best to treat her illness, based on each culture's beliefs and medical practices.  While this book isn't about Vietnam, I highly recommend it to anyone interested in anthropology, medicine, or Asian and American culture.  It's a compelling and highly thought-provoking story." (Julie Hessler)
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Paradise of the Blind
by Duong Thu Huong
"Tells the story of three women fighting to maintain their dignity under a government that discards old values and tears families apart. Some beautifully poetic parts." (Catherine DeLuz)
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The Tale of Kieu : A bilingual edition of Nguyen Du`s Truyen Kieu
by Huynh Sanh Thong
This long narrative poem is the best known story in Vietnamese literature. It is the tragic tale of a woman who becomes a mistress and faces a series of sad events.
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Daughters of the River Huong
by Uyen Nicole Duong
"The story of a Vietnamese royal concubine and her descendents."
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An Anthology of Vietnamese Poems: From the Eleventh through the Twentieth Centuries
by Huynh Sanh Thong (Editor)
From the publisher: This superb anthology brings together a thousand years of Vietnamese poems for the English-speaking world. Preeminent translator Hùynh Sanh Thông presents more than 300 poems written by 150 different poets, some celebrated, some obscure. Hùynh's abundant commentary offers his readers an understanding and appreciation of each poem.
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The Gangster We Are All Looking For
by Thi Diem Thuy Le
This is the rather sad story of a Vietnamese family who struggles to adjust to an isolated, impoverished life in California. Their family is haunted by the death of a child and the rejection by their grandparents back in Vietnam. The book is enticing because you are inside the head of a young girl as she watches her family and gradually losing her innocent perception as she weaves you into their hidden frustration.
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Voices of Vietnam
by Charlene Edwards
"A collection of personal memories of the Vietnam-American War. The book includes interviews from a wide range of people who fought or were involved in the war, demonstrating the far reaching impact on America even today. (Allison Martin)
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Spring Essence
by Ho Xuan Huong, John Balaban (Translator)
Ho Xuan Huong - whose name translates as "Spring Essence" - is one of the most important and popular poets in Vietnam. A concubine, she became renowned for her poetic skills, writing subtly risque poems which used double entendre and sexual innuendo as a vehicle for social, religious, and political commentary. This book features a "tri-graphic" presentation of English translations alongside both the modern Vietnamese alphabet and the nearly extinct calligraphic Nom writing system in which Ho Xuan Huong originally wrote her poems.
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Ca Dao Vietnam : Vietnamese Folk Poetry
by John Balaban
During the Vietnam war, John Balaban traveled the Vietnamese countryside alone, taping, transcribing, and translating oral folk poems known as "ca dao." The young American poet walked up to farmers, fishermen, seamstresses, and monks and said, "Sing me your favorite poem," and they did. "Folk poetry is so much a part of everybody's life, my request didn't seem like such a strange proposition," Balaban writes. This revised, bilingual edition includes new poems and an introductionof poetry's importance in Vietnamese culture.
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The Stone Boy and Other Stories
by Thich Nhat Hanh
"A book of short stories classified under fiction/Buddhism. Thich Nhat Hanh is a Zen Buddhist monk who was exhiled from Viet Nam (I believe in the 60's or 70's) for his opposition to the war and now makes his home in France. This book, although fiction, gave me many insights into Vietnamese culture and history. Nhat Hanh has also written many readable, enlightening and beautiful books on Buddhism for those spiritual seekers amongst us." (Georgia O'Keefe)
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A Good Scent From A Strange Mountain
Robert Olen Butler
"Award-winning collection of short stories about Vietnamese immigrants in the USA; superbly written and contains a few Vietnamese myths (like the creation myth) interwoven with the plot lines." (Elena Langrill)
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When Heaven and Earth Changed Places : A Vietnamese Woman's Journey from War to Peace
Le Ly Hayslip
"I highly recommend this book for those who wish to understand a bit of the complexity and historical background to Vietnam today. It is not an emotionally easy book to read, but there is really nothing else like it. This isn't a book about the war, it's about the people." (Allison Martin)
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Monkey Bridge
By Lan Cao
"A grownup book about Vietnam that I thought was excellent is Monkey Bridge, by Lan Cao. It's the story of a young Vietnamese girl and her mother who come to the US as refugees after the war.  It talks a lot about the Vietnamese culture, and the difficulty of adjusting to a new culture." (Nancy Jessup)
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Dispatches
by Michael Herr
"This is a work of literary nonfiction, which means that it is written with the techniques of fiction, but all of the material is factual. It is about Herr's experiences as a correspondent in Vietnam and his journey toward falling in love with the country and people of Vietnam. It has a lot of symbolism, imagery, and dream sequences, but is not difficult to read and well worth your time. I think it might give the reader a better understanding of why the war in Vietnam was so fraught with emotion and why some people today still carry that emotional baggage with them." (Stefanie Bates Eye)
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Buddha's Child: My Fight to Save Vietnam
by Nguyen Cao Ky, Marvin Wolf
"Emerging from the shadows of 30 years of quiet American life, Ky attempts to set the record straight from his perspective." (Rick Martin)
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