After ten years fighting in South Vietnam, North Vietnamese soldier Quan
is a company commander; of the two childhood friends who joined up with
him at eighteen, Luong has risen high up the command hierarchy but Bien
has gone mad and is in an asylum. Sent to help Bien, Quan journeys
north through the dangerous and confusing jungles of Central Vietnam.
Returning to his home village, he finds his father and childhood
girlfriend fallen on hard times — and no comfort for himself.
He continues to work and fight for the approaching victory, but his
inner doubts cannot be assuaged or the effects of the war undone.
The only clumsy part of Novel Without a Name is a brief episode with
a party leader making fun of party ideology, which fits in awkwardly and
is too pat to be convincing: the picture of patriotism and war propaganda
presented throughout is bleak enough that there's no need to belabour the
point. Otherwise Novel Without a Name is totally compelling, however
surreal some of its events are. There are extended descriptive passages,
but the narrative stays focused on Quan and those he meets, conveying the
camaraderie of soldiers and civilians as well as the psychological effects
of violence and the broader horrors of war. The parallels that spring to
mind are with European accounts of the slaughter of the First World War.
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- Related reviews:
- Bao Ninh - The Sorrow of War
- books about Vietnam + Vietnamese history
- more war fiction
- more world literature