Novel Without a Name

Duong Thu Huong

translated from the Vietnamese
Picador 1995
A book review by Danny Yee © 2004
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.

July 2004

External links:
- buy from or
Related reviews:
- Duong Thu Huong - Paradise of the Blind
- Bao Ninh - The Sorrow of War
- books about Vietnam + Vietnamese history
- more Vietnamese literature
- more war fiction
%T Novel Without a Name
%A Duong Thu Huong
%M Vietnamese
%F Duong, Phan Huy
%F McPherson, Nina
%I Picador
%D 1995 [1990]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0330344072
%P 289pp