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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the greatest war novels from a century of war
Deeply moving account of war beginning as one of the few survivors of a Vietnamese unit looks for the bodies of dead comrades in the Jungle of Lost Souls - haunted by those who have died. And yet there are other ghosts - those who have lived but are carrying mental and emotional anguish, numbness and hopelessness.
Surely one of the greatest war novels to come out of...
Published on 16 Nov. 2003 by Gareth Smyth

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2.0 out of 5 stars Lacks cohesiveness, gloomy without being emotionally engaging
The title of this novel says it all really - it is a very gloomy, downbeat story about the horrors both of war and of trying to adjust to life after it. The author fought in Vietnam himself, so the vignettes have a tinge of painful reality. The protagonist of the story is Kien, who joins the North Vietnamese troops as an 18 year old and spends the next ten years of his...
Published 3 months ago by BookWorm


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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the greatest war novels from a century of war, 16 Nov. 2003
By 
Gareth Smyth "Enjilos" (County Mayo, Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Sorrow Of War (Paperback)
Deeply moving account of war beginning as one of the few survivors of a Vietnamese unit looks for the bodies of dead comrades in the Jungle of Lost Souls - haunted by those who have died. And yet there are other ghosts - those who have lived but are carrying mental and emotional anguish, numbness and hopelessness.
Surely one of the greatest war novels to come out of a century of war, and should be essential reading for political leaders who think construction is as easy as destruction. A book that moves you to tears but somehow makes you more alive, and a tribute in a way to the resilience of the Vietnamese people in the face of barely imaginable horror.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A human being's duty on this earth is to live, not to kill, 4 May 2008
By 
Luc REYNAERT (Beernem, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Sorrow Of War (Paperback)
In his novel in a novel Bao Ninh gives us a rare insight into the war scene of those who beat the Americans and their allies in Vietnam. His sometimes brutally violent and emotional picture shows that war everywhere is a `Jungle of Screaming Souls', causing psychological ruin and familial and social destruction. For the rest of their lives, it will leave deep inextinguishable scars in those who were lucky to survive

The horror scenes resemble pictures of Hieronymus Bosch: `only his skeleton was complete, like that of a frog thrown into a mud patch. Crows had pecked away Car's face; his mouth was full of mud and rotting leaves.'
It is a world of hunger, malaria, ulcers, hallucinations and nightmares (`groups of headless black American soldiers carrying lanterns aloft'); not only of heroic battles, but also of desertions and political indoctrination (`the anti-intellectual atmosphere of the state ideologies').
The losses are tremendous: `the short story of my life. First my brothers, then my mother, then my husband, then my son.'
After the war, integration in the civil society is difficult: `impoverishes demobilized soldiers, playing cards, smoking pot and other weeds, most of them unemployed.' Family lives and loves from before the war are completely shattered.

For Bao Ninh, `the divine war had paid him for all his suffering and losses with more suffering and losses at home.'
He rote this book, `to rid myself of these devils, to put my tormented soul finally to rest instead of letting it float in a pool of shame and sorrow.'

This `Path of no Glory' should not be missed.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most moving story ever written, 25 July 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Sorrow Of War (Paperback)
Having visited Vietnam I was impressed with the way the author wrote truthfully about the war and the impact upon the individual. Well worth reading if you want an insight into what really happened during this traumatic and horrendous time of Vietnamese history.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The war from the other side, 14 Jan. 2008
By 
A. J. Golding - See all my reviews
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This is, quite simply, one of the most moving books I have ever read. Of the 500 original members of his brigade who went off to war against America, Bao Ninh was one of only 10 who survived. That puts in perspective the, relatively speaking, minor losses on the American side (55,000 killed, as against an estimated 2-3 million Vietnamese who lost their lives). Despite the unbelievable sacrifices and losses on his side, this is not a book of rancour - indeed the Americans hardly figure in it at all. It is a book about the sorrow and loss of war, and the often futile attempt of survivors to put their lives back together again afterwards. For Bao, who was away for ten years of fighting (again, in contrast to most American soldiers, whose tours of duty generally lasted only a year or two), it is about the loss of his youth, and the loss of love. Most of all, it is about the attempt to somehow exorcise the demons and nightmares through the act of writing (which as Primo Levi proved, after a lifetime of post-Holocaust writing, is still not always possible). Achingly beautiful.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A view from the other side, 5 Jun. 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Sorrow Of War (Paperback)
This is a great piece of work. It is gentle at times while horrific at others. It provides an alternative perspective with integrity and insight in the telling of the other side's story from a point of 'Being Human' as opposed to 'Being Political'.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A War Novel Without Hate, 9 Feb. 2007
By 
Allan Cameron "An Rubhach" (Western Isles) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Sorrow Of War (Mass Market Paperback)
This novel is both a remarkable work of literature (most importantly the translation is of an unusually high quality) and an account of the misery of war by someone who had clearly experienced it first-hand. The author is not interested in ideological self-justification (perhaps that is not necessary, given the nature of the onslaught suffered by this small nation), and it is indeed a novel written in sorrow and not in anger. If someone were only to read two books on Vietnam and the related conflict in Cambodia, I would suggest this one and The Gate, a harrowing factual account by someone who against all odds came out of one of Pol Pot's death camps alive.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bronze candy, 22 Jun. 2014
By 
Officer Dibble (Zummerzet) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Sorrow Of War (Kindle Edition)
The Vietnam war from the Communist side except this is barely political at all. It's a human story of a slightly soft bourgeois boy who joins up in 1965 and somehow, to his own surprise, lives to be a hardened NVA veteran at the war's end ten years later.

The lead character Kien recounts his experiences of the sorrow of war and the sorrow of having survived. He does not use the phrase but a sort of 'survivor guilt', which haunts him and makes him strive for the 'sacred heavenly duty' that justifies his spared life.

This is not a fin de siecle 'All Quiet on The Western Front' but if you have read the latter I am sure you will feel a strong similarity. The sense of a lost generation that has known only fighting and does not know another way or purpose to that life.

The structure of the novel is not easy to read; no chapters and paragraphs that seem to randomly start 'That was the Spring' or 'That was 1974'. Indeed I struggled two-thirds of the way through before the reward of a tour de force ending.

There are some graphic scenes but do not buy this expecting a battle novel. The Americans are barely mentioned throughout. Be prepared to understand what it's like being on the receiving end of a napalm attack but likewise NVA attacks are recounted as part of a routine life for the Vietnamese lost generation. Very moving and rewarding if you stick with it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'The Sorrow of War' - quite simply, a masterpiece, 6 Sept. 2010
This review is from: The Sorrow Of War (Mass Market Paperback)
When someone eventually finds the money to make the film, I hope I'm still around to be involved.
But to the book itself: simply a masterpiece. Could you imagine an American book about the Vietnam war that did not conform to the Hollywood simplistic version of good v evil? And the whole world thinks the same way, doesn't it? Well, no, not really. This novel about the American War (as opposed to the French War, which preceded it) is NOT anti-American... which allows for a completely different approach from what you would expect with a novel written by any Western author since Graham Greene.
Read this wonderful book, try to understand the characters... and their positions in the whirlpool of 1960s & 70s S.E. Asia.....
..and understand even more clearly where Bush Baby and Tony B.Liar went wrong as they charged off blindly on their anti-anti-capitalist chargers.
I had the doubtful pleasure of meeting the 'good guys' in Saigon in the late 60s and the real pleasure of working in Hà Nöi in 2005: the 'wind of change' was not something that blew from the West. Read the book. Fund the film. Visit the country. Learn the lessons. Feel the difference.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Lacks cohesiveness, gloomy without being emotionally engaging, 16 Feb. 2015
By 
BookWorm "BookWorm" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Sorrow Of War (Paperback)
The title of this novel says it all really - it is a very gloomy, downbeat story about the horrors both of war and of trying to adjust to life after it. The author fought in Vietnam himself, so the vignettes have a tinge of painful reality. The protagonist of the story is Kien, who joins the North Vietnamese troops as an 18 year old and spends the next ten years of his life fighting and watching his comrades die around him. Even once peace comes he struggles to return to civilian life, constantly haunted by the 'sorrow of war'.

There's nothing wrong per se with writing in a realistic way about how dreadful war is. But this book has a number of other shortcomings from a literary point of view. Firstly it dots around in time constantly, which is confusing and breaks the narrative thread. It makes it much harder to get into it and you don't build up much emotional bond with the characters. Even Kien and his pre-war girlfriend Phuong aren't characters I particularly cared for. Secondly, it gets a bit tedious after a while. To start with I found it moving in a horrible way. But by about page 90 of endless descriptions of nasty battles, post war gloom and pre-war nostalgia, I started to lose interest. There isn't much narrative structure and I realised that nothing significant was going to happen. It doesn't have a story arc as such. Random bits of nastiness are spread throughout, along with lots of introspective misery.

It is easy to read and the quality of the writing itself is good. The dialogue works and some of the little scenes are very powerful and vivid. It works as a collection of micro-short stories. But it lacks the cohesiveness necessary to make a good novel. Without characters you can love and some sort of 'journey' within the plot, the sadness becomes unpleasant rather than touching. I don't mind a book making me sad, but I don't like a book that makes me miserable without really emotionally engaging me. Anyone with an interest in the military or in the Vietnam war would probably want to read this, but I wouldn't give it a high recommendation.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Greatest Book Ever Written, 15 Sept. 2009
By 
Dr. Delvis Memphistopheles "FIST" (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Sorrow Of War (Mass Market Paperback)
Out of Orwell, Kafka, Celine, Bukowski, Algren, Mishima and Kundera one man stands head and tail above them all; Bao Ninh. He's only ever written one book, now an elderly poor man living out the twilight of his years in Vietnam Bao Ninh is to literature what Darwin is to fossils, he brought it alive.

Living in the West during the Cold War, Vietnam was a backdrop to the 60's, people knew something bad was going on, but not exactly sure of what. The Vietnamese were seen as either duped or just cunning. Not exactly the same species of human as the rest of us their lives meant less as they did not have the same values or emotional attachments. They were mown down in their hundreds in Platoon, Rambo, Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now as the Vietnam War was rewritten as a piece of drugged madness. As opposed to seeing it as an act of genocide, trying to re enact the western frontier in Asia with the mass anhilation of southern villages in an attempt to rid the world of the red virus, literally entailing the massacre of entire populations in pre emptive strikes to stop them falling foul to communist propaganda.

This book is as far away from Communist Propaganda as War and Peace is from endorsing Napoleon. It is an exploration of humanity and this is its strength and revolutionary act as it portrays the Vietnamese as having emotions and empathy. Emotions sadly lacking in the American portrayal of the war with its bang bang aren't well all mad Hendrix Doors soundtrack. Ninh hardly paints a glorious picture of the North; rape, miscommunication, prostitution, alcoholism and violence all emerge from the actions of the glorious communist combatants. This unsanitised version of the war also placed Ninh at personal risk, entailing his reticence in writing a follow up book. Then again perhaps he didn't need to, once you've reached perfection, how can it be exceeded?

It is also revolutionary in its structure, its themes, the risks the author took to write it and to get it published and in the humble genius of the writer who can be visited in Vietnam. No self serving Oxbridge arrogance oozing out of Radio 4 coated in nepotism points you to read this. Bao Ninh is the real deal, the universal genius. Who needs a publicity machine when you are this good?
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The Sorrow Of War
The Sorrow Of War by Bao Ninh (Mass Market Paperback - 5 May 2005)
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