Monday, March 24, 2008

The Destiny of Love, The Sorrow of War

I'm about three quarters into Bảo Ninh's lyrical The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam / The Destiny of Love / Thân phận của tình yêu (1991, 1994, 2005, 2006) and what I can reveal is this: it's very good, but critical comparisons with Erich Maria Remarque's Im Westen nichts Neues / All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) are a little misleading. Bảo Ninh's novel focuses more on its main character -- Kien -- and his sometime girlfriend Phuong, than on a coherent "band of brothers" in linear time. The narrative is fractured, nightmarish, and ghostly, as befits a scarred surviving veteran suffering from post traumatic stress. What a Western reader quickly comes to realize is the Vietnamese are as human as anyone else. Shouldn't be a shock or surprise, but given how "the Enemy" is dehumanized in wartime, former opponents' writings are all the more valuable as correctives. There are also interesting cultural differences between warring sides; some of them related to the Vietnam-American War are well illustrated in Bảo Ninh's novel.

Here's a sample (translated from the Vietnamese by Phan Thanh Hao and edited by Frank Palmos, 1995-1996 editions):

He became bored with his university studies [after the war]. One morning he simply decided he wouldn't attend. From that point on he ended his easy student life, quietly and for no apparent reason. He stopped reading newspapers, then books, then let everything go. He lost contact with his friends, then with the outside world in general. Except drink. And cigarettes. He couldn't care less that he was penniless, that he drank and smoked almost nonstop. He wondered around outside, pacing the lonely streets. When he did sleep, it was a heavy drunken slumber.

In his dreams he saw Phuong now and then, but more often he dreamed of crazy, twisted things, distorted apparitions of loneliness and sorrow. Horrible, poisonous nightmares brought back images that haunted him constantly throughout the war. During the twilights of those cold nights the familiar, lonely spirits reappeared from the Jungle of Screaming Souls, sighing and moaning to him, whispering as they floated around like pale vapors, shredded with bullet-holes. They moved into his sleep as though they were mirrors surrounding him. . . . .

Today's Rune: Signals.


Charles Gramlich said...

I agree absolutely. It's really good to see the other side.

Pythia3 said...

How very true...we simply cannot kill another human being; one with feelings, a mother and father, a life and career, siblings and friends, health and money concerns, hopes and dreams for the future...we can only kill 'dehumans.'
To 'rehumanize,' especially during wartime - through books, films, music, art, poetry...would be the most powerful United Nations endeavor - the best way to work towards peace through peaceful, human means.
Hollywood could do so much more - rather then rallying the troops of Americans with propaganda films and messages.
Where are all the heroes these days?
Please post something on heroes, Erik. We need heroes - and if anyone can find us a few in this fog and stormy weather - you can!
:) peace and stay warm!

Erik Donald France said...

Thanks Charles and Pythia for the comments. Much appreciated. Lindy, I'll get on it ;)

Lana Gramlich said...

Just the snippets you've posted here make me almost afraid to read the book. So much pain, horror & loss. <:(