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Book 56 Completed

September 13, 2010

“The sorrow of war inside a soldier’s heart was in a strange way similar to the sorrow of love. It was a kind of nostalgia, like the immense sadness of a world at dusk. It was a sadness, a missing, a pain which could send one soaring back into the past. The sorrow of the battlefield could not normally be pinpointed to one particular event, or even one person. If you focused on any one event it would soon become a tearing pain.”

The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh is not a linear-plot-driven book. It jumps around memories and events — taking the reader into the heart of war in North Vietnam and then directly into the aftermath after the battles are over. It is — at its core — a story of the loss of innocence. I wouldn’t say it was an easy read in terms of following the direction of the stories: It’s intended to read like a dream, hazy and jumpy. While the individual episodes are clear enough, piecing together time and place was challenging. (Especially since I was reading it in spurts. Perhaps a one-sitting read would have solved that issue.)

Boiled down, it might read like many post-war novels of years gone by: An exploration of disillusionment from soldiers returning from combat. This book is about the disintegration of the main character’s spirit and drive — it’s heartbreaking and interesting, even if the overall theme of the book truly is similar to so many other amazing books on Vietnam. This war took the youth and souls of men without regard to country, affiliation, or color. The Americans may be the enemy in The Sorrow of War…but Ninh is clear: The real enemy is war itself.

Among the war stories is a jumbled tale of love between Kien and Phuong. The pieces of their tortured life together culminating in a tragic denouement — readers know that Phuong and Kien’s relationship deteriorates, but a final glimpse into a moment that tears them apart emotionally is one of the most gripping scenes in this small book.

This book is profound and engaging — despite its jigsaw-esque storytelling techniques. It’s not a book you lose yourself in…it requires some thought and processing…which, in this busy week of work and life, explains why it took me too long to finish it.

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